Unfreaked Folk

Devendra Banhart, Roxy, September 25, 2007
By RICHARD BECK  |  October 1, 2007
Devendra Banhart and crew

Devendra Banhart, having slowly but surely abandoned the “freak” half of the “freak-folk” movement, may have found his true calling at the Roxy last Tuesday as a small-time professional entertainer. I had always assumed that the guy was some kind of hermit artiste, emerging from his beard only once a year to hand down the latest batch of crazed, digitized incantations — the elusive, legendary art-school dropout of the Catskills.

Instead, Banhart came to please. Dressed in a snug little vest, a colorful headscarf, and many silver rings, he played a set that mostly resembled an amiable variety show. Members of his band took the lead for two of their own songs, and he even invited an audience member on stage to perform a song she had written. (The young woman from Milwaukee had a lovely voice, and her adorable, vocalized “trumpet solo” is the sort of thing that happens when an angel gets its wings.)

A hefty chunk of Banhart’s new album, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (XL), was received with enthusiasm if not rapture, though the band’s first forays into proper rock-and-roll volume levels on “Seahorse” were a great success. I could have done without a cheeky rendition of “Shabop Shalom,” an idiotic little number about puppy love and Judaism, as well as “Lover,” a Motown ripoff that smacks more of exploitative cultural appropriation than affectionate musical synthesis. Still, what good is an entertainer if he can’t cater to every sensibility in the room?

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