Last Night: Devendra Banhart and the Grogs at the Regency Ballroom
Devendra Banhart and The Grogs, Dorothy and The Originals
Tuesday, March 23, 2010
Better Than: Seeing Devendra at The Warfield.
It used to be that when you made it big as a musician, you played an "unplugged" session, proving to the world the power your songs hold against all that extra amplification. Devendra Banhart, who needs no introduction here in his former stomping ground, took the opposite route and plugged in last night. The result, like most things Banhart attempts, was eclectic, fun, and original.
The show easily could have been called The Devendra Banhart Variety Hour, as it featured the frontman kicking it on stage with his friends from The Grogs. Together they offered heaps of surf rock, a slice of metal, a dash of reggae, a Phish style jam session--and got the fans to not only appreciate the eclectic mix, but to dance along to it as well.
Shedding his mountain man look for a short haircut and close shave, Banhart was at first glance unrecognizable. He looked a bit like Marcel Marceau in a striped t-shirt and old, oversized pants until he began flailing about, doing his familiar "chicken dance" during "Long Haired Child." He explained, "It's always weird playing in San Francisco, cause you know, I lived here. It's where I learned the chicken dance from." No one seemed to feel that awkwardness, though. Each song was greeted with raucous applause and enthusiasm. Dancing was de-rigueur.
The Grogs gave extra muscle to the quieter side of Banhart's material. "Shabop Shalom" opened with drummer Greg Rogrove poetically reciting the opening monologue from the song. Banharts' bandmates include members of Little Joy and Priestbird, and he let his friends play new songs of their own. Highlights outside the Banhart set list included Luckey Remington's tune, and Rogrove's epic seven-minute metal jam "Diamond," with the drummer beating his kit as if his life depended on it, while the other four musicians on stage headbanged in time. In the crowd, polite dancing turned to moshing. Watching Devendra and the Grogs riff off each other, laugh, and smile was like being privy to an extended practice session--we were included in all their fun.
The Grogs eventually left the stage and Banhart went into the unplugged portion of the show. He hammered out a short, four-song mini-set set solo, except for the duet he performed with show opener Dorothy and The Originals. (The tight security line at the Regency kept most of the attendants in line outside past the 8 p.m. start time, forcing most of us to miss the opening act). Dorothy Berry, playing her fifth show ever, is 20-year-old student from Oakland recently discovered by Banhart. She came onstage to help Banhart with "Bad Girl," and the mixture of Berry's somber, soulful croon with Banhart's smooth, owl-y delivery brought a few fans to tears.
The guys had played for almost two hours by the time the encore came around. After polishing off an epic rendition of "I Feel Just Like a Child," a shirtless Banhart thanked everyone for dancing. By the evening's end, the Regency reeked with sweat, body odor, and pot--but was filled with a lot of smiling faces.
By the way: If you're really hurting to catch last night's highlights, there were a ton of people taking video. Expect to find highlights on the interwebs very soon.
Random Detail: As much as I was hot and bothered by Banhart's moaning and strutting, I had nothing on the girl next to me--who passed out and was dragged away by medics.