DEVENDRA BANHART | live | review

L.A. Weekly | Alec Hanley Bemis

at the Silverlake Lounge, January 17

Both Devendra Banhart and his opening act, Entrance, played music that fit neatly into the tortured-troubadour tradition that unites Van Morrison, Syd Barrett, Tim Buckley, Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley and Elliott Smith. The less said about Entrance (a.k.a. 21-year-old Guy Blakeslee) the better. He had the outfit right ‹ b&w striped shirt; purple velvet jacket; I think his shoes were Clark's ‹ but a hot outfit and tousled black curls do not a tuneful voice make. His meandering acoustic thrash was intolerable, like nails on a chalkboard or cats having their tails chopped off.

As the bearded, black-haired Banhart removed his brown cloche hat and sat Indian-style on an Oriental rug in the middle of the stage, one feared we were in for more posturing. But obviously he is committed to the wigged-out path: He would retain the cross-legged pose for the rest of his performance; a front row of about 20 audience members did the same. This was but the first sign of his power as a performer; his eccentricities had already charmed us. At 11:30, Banhart took out his guitar, asked for a glass of red wine, closed his eyes and began picking out small acoustic figures. When he opened his mouth, he unleashed a beautiful warble that brought to mind 1) black female blues singers from scratchy old 78s; 2) Ravi Shankar; 3) your best-ever psychedelic experience; 4) the blind-man charms of Jose Feliciano, Andre Bocelli and Ray Charles; and 5) a wizened Chinese scholar yawning as he schooled you in the Tao of folk rock.

Banhart's lyrics were so freeform as to be almost indescribable, but I'll never forget his couplets about the guy who put ovaries in his mouth so his dogs wouldn't die, or the moment he sang, "My friends are useless hens/they don't lay anymore." A half-hour later, after nine brilliantly inchoate songs and fragments, Banhart was gone.