It all began with Devendra Banhart, dressed head to toe in brown save for a flash of salmon pink at his ankles, quietly approaching the stage, crouching down to softly wave to the rather full crowd. From then on, however, nothing would be quiet or delicate. Five years on from the last time he played Toronto, Banhart and his four-piece band brought his eclectic mix of song stylings to the Phoenix with gusto last night (March 9).
With his guitar slung over his shoulder — and not the one you'd expect — Banhart and company opened with the deep electric drum pulse of "Saturday Night" off of his latest release, Ape in Pink Marble. Banhart embodied a childlike restlessness, pacing the stage, adjusting his trousers, standing on one leg, walking side stage to simply touch the large handing speaker.
He contorted his face, waved his hands wildly and exaggerated and elongated his vibrato, his tongue escaping out the side of his mouth time and time again. It made for an amusing contrast between the stillness of his band members and Banhart going here, there and everywhere. He shook the audience with an unexpected shout during "Mara," and gave "Für Hildegard Von Bingen" from 2013's Mala a much dancier drumbeat.
"Ça va?" he asked in French, one of many languages he tossed out to the crowd, who gave a loud resounding "OUI." "Cool," Banhart said, as he struggled to adjust the microphone stand to his liking. "I think physical comedy is making a comeback — can't get enough of it these days."
After more selections from Mala — "Mi Negrita," which really brought out the Spanish speakers in the crowd, and the sweet and well received "Daniel" — the stage lights went dark, leaving only a soft light on the now-solitary Banhart. "Any requests?" he asked, and then proceeded to play acoustic versions of older tunes.
Things became a little goofier and more charming from there. Banhart asked for a volunteer to come onstage to recite a new joke that they'd written — apparently a regular occurrence on this current tour. Two jokes were told, one on the sweeter side ("What did one duvet say to his homie duvet? Yo homie, you down?") while the other was a tad more vulgar, but still gained the speaker a hug from Banhart ("I was going down on my girlfriend. Turns out she was on her period — boy was my face red!").
"Did you guys have a nice prom? Neither did I, but things are going to be different tonight!" Banhart said, in a silly, exaggerated voice, before heading into the definite crowd pleaser "Shabop Shalom," from 2007's Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, the long-winded intro spoken passionately by the drummer, Gregory Rogove (who played an opening set under the moniker Rogov). "Long Haired Child," from 2005's Cripple Crow, was by far the heaviest cut of the night, with Banhart solely on the microphone, making great use of how long the cord was.
Following "Fancy Man" (which featured plenty of hands-on-hips dancing, certainly causing many a swoon in the audience), the band took a break, but not before Banhart amusingly said, "Thank you so much for having us. Merry Christmas!"
The encore included the atmospheric "Celebration" and the very fun and danceable "Fig in Leather" ("Fuck Trump, let's disco!") before the band brought it all home with the knockout "Carmensita," a boisterous ending to a beautiful evening.