By Kirsten Becker
It’s been awhile since folk-rocker Devendra Banhart performed a show in Philadelphia. June 10th marked his return to the city, playing a show at the Union Transfer. The night was one of only a handful of shows he will be playing in the US this year. His eighth record, Mala was released back in March and has been highly praised by many. His live shows are something of a spectacle and I was eager to see one for myself.
Opener Rodrigo Amarante was the unexpected surprise of the night. A sense of confusion spread across the crowd as he took the stage–I have never heard so many people become instantly silent. His awkward stage presence, however, was overshadowed by his exceptionally emotional music. Despite the lyrics being in Portuguese, I was taken aback by the power of his songs. Rodrigo played the first few songs solo, with nothing but his guitar and a dim light above him. Towards the end, a full band joined, with the members often switching instruments.
Rodrigo Amarante received loud cheers from the crowd as he finished his last song–it seems that others were as surprised by the power of Amarante’s set as I was. It was a rare occasion when an opening act took the spotlight, and I was blown away. In fact, I almost forgot that Amarante’s set wasn’t the end of the show. My excitement grew as I wondered how Devendra would be able to top that performance.
Finally, around 10:15pm, Banhart entered the stage. The crowd was full of enthusiasm, cheering and screaming their loudest when he walked on. He started his set with a few solo songs, one of them a long time favorite of mine, “Little Yellow Spider.” His full band joined later on to play several standouts from “Mala,” including “Golden Girls,” “Fur Hildegard Von Bingen,” and “Mi Negrita.” The jarring electronic ending of “Your Fine Petting Duck” turned all of the Union Transfer into a dancing frenzy. Other crowd favorites like “Lover” and “Long Haired Child” received enormously positive feedback from fans, and almost everyone was singing along.
There weren’t many breaks in-between songs. Instead, each number flowed right into the next one as Devendra Banhart’s high energy and unusual stage presence electrified the venue. Mala is the second album Banhart has recorded with this band (Noah Georgeson, Greg Rogove, Luckey Remington, and Rodrigo Amarante, who came back on stage to accompany on the guitar), and their collective musicianship showed. The group’s sound was very impressive, while all of the members were able to display their individual talents as well.
An outstanding set was followed by an even more entertaining encore, in which he played two more songs before finally calling it a night. This was an incredible performance, and I am already eager to see Devendra Banhart live in the future. Make sure to pick up his latest record, Mala. I highly recommend it.