Photo by Philip Cosores

Devendra Banhart brought understated jams and tender love songs to San Diego.

Banhart began as a sort of freak-folk iconoclast, helping to propel the strangest offerings of the genre to the forefront of popular, just-under-the-mainstream music. As his career furthered, so did his musical offerings, which became increasingly complex, and at times, over the top. The complexity of his arrangements plateaued in his album What Will We Be which saw some of his strongest work coupled with some of his most overstuffed.

The two albums to follow, both Mala and Ape in Pink Marble were increasingly exercises in restraint comparatively speaking. In his performance to a sold out crowd at the Observatory North Park, Banhart brought the same restrained vulnerability to the stage where he ran through a sprawling two-hour set that, while impressive in scale, felt surprisingly intimate.

He often stopped to ask audience members what they’d like to hear, even humoring audience members by playing fragments of songs he didn’t remember how to play. At one point his bandmates left the stage while he took to a stool to play deep cuts, notably early songs like “A Sight To Behold” where audience members grew silenced by the intensity of the moment.

Soft-spoken, tall, and lanky, Devendra danced like a latino-caricature, leading the crowd, gently and endearingly serenading. How a crowd reacts often says more about a performer than the crowd. In this case, everyone knew when to quiet down, when to let the intensity of the songs permeate the room, and later, during songs such as “Fig in Leather” when to embrace the impulse to dance.

Devendra Banhart came to the Observatory North Park where he sang a career-spanning set. While it was a large sold-out crowd, it felt remarkably personal. All around me I could hear people passionately singing along, listening intently, or reaching out hoping to touch his hand. By the end of his set it felt like an evening spent with friends, sharing stories, opening up in ways only the night allows us to, surrounded by the ones we choose to share these moments with.

Review by: Brian Strauss

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