Tuesday night had Los Angeles flocking downtown to The Mayan to enjoy a night headlined by the charmingly magnetic artist that is Devendra Banhart. The show opened with Josiah Steinbrick delivering a set of rhythmic and ambient melodies, followed by Rogov playing an intimate acoustic set for his recently released EP Hoops. Welsh musician H. Hawkline closed out the opening acts by playing a set fit for his quirky, lo-fi tunes.
With time to spare before the headlining act, I had the chance to talk to a few fans in the crowd about Devendra’s music and why they decided to attend the show that night. Ranging everywhere from young teens to middle aged adults, live Banhart show virgins to seasoned vets; the spectrum of fans served as a definitive reflection of the musician’s unifying capabilities. As different as some of their personal factors may have been, there were also a few commonalities that lingered between them. First, they all wanted to remain anonymous. Taking in the political climate and increased online security, this was understandable. Second, all pairs consisted of one person who was seeing Devendra for the first time, and a veteran who was seeing him for the 2nd or roughly 16+ time. Third, I was happy to discover that many (me included) were ecstatic to have an opportunity to make up for his rained out set at Beach Goth. While undoubtedly ethereal, enjoying a show while being pushed around in an overcrowded festival completely soaked from head to toe behind 6 foot guys is, well, less than an ideal way to enjoy some mellowing tunes like “Quetate Luna” or “Middle Names.”
One deviating, and quite unique, response particularly caught my attention. While talking to a pair of musician friends, one of them began to allude to their recent trip to Asia. “I heard him all over. You can really hear how Asian inspired sounds influenced some of his music and I think it’s just really cool to see how well his music travels, especially throughout bohemian locations.” I agreed as he continued to share “When we were in Bali, I had recently played the new album for my friend. We took acid and he ended up having a really bad trip. As he was going through this experience, the only thing that worked to calm and soothe him was playing Ape in Pink Marble. The friend quickly chimed in. “Yeah, true story. I guess I can now literally say that album saved my life. So now when I play it, it functions as permanent nostalgia. I’m pretty excited to hear some of it live for the first time tonight.”
As the lights dimmed, Devendra walked onstage with his charming smile and genuine thank you’s igniting the crowds’ cheers. He began his set with a favorite track off his recent album “Saturday Night,” and continued with an incredible set list that consistently intertwined between newer tunes and old classics. Atop the magic of the music itself, Banhart, who is no stranger to utilizing his platform to advocate for progressive issues, used the time in between songs to promote varying messages of trust, acceptance and love as forms of resistance in trying times. From messages of loving and accepting the person next to you, reflections in Spanish upon his own journey as a Venezuelan migrant, to remaining tolerant in times of intolerance, the affirmations encircling the night seemed to uplift spirits as much as the music inspired to heal them. The combination of his encouraging political reflection and whimsical, folk music capitalized on a night that delivered an atmosphere that fostered love and hope in a highly political time transpiring with much struggle.
Devendra continued this theme halfway through his set as he introduced two young women on stage to speak upon current events with an emphasis on their individually inspiring stories. The first, an Afghan-Sicilian refugee, spoke upon the peril of fleeing Afghanistan alongside her parents at a young age. She continued on to illuminate on the beautiful country she had to leave behind and the outlook she now holds to advocate for it through the power of activism, love and resistance. The second was an undocumented woman born in Yucatan, Mexico and raised in Los Angeles. She spoke upon her love for the community she belongs to, the city that raised her and the energy of the crowd that night. She continued to discuss her involvement with the organization ICE Out of L.A., the strength found within unity, and that while she “was a bit more of a College dropout than a DREAMer,” there was a profound necessity for the inclusion and advocacy on behalf of all undocumented people.
Devendra returned to the stage gracefully thanking the presenters for their contribution and continued on with the rest of his set. Nearing the end portion of the night, he stopped to ask for song requests from the audience. While my efforts to have him play “Your Fine Petting Duck” didn’t quite make the cut, many other fan favorites, like the revival of “Shabot Shalom,” where played with delighted compliance ending his formal set. After swiftly returning on stage for an encore, Devendra concisely captured the theme of the night as a disco ball descended from the ceiling to deliver his closing remark. “Fuck Trump. Lets Disco!” The night concluded with the final songs “Fig in Leather” and “Carmensita” playing as the crowd transitioned back into the realities of the world in a truly avant-garde fashion only an artist like Banhart can achieve, dancing alongside their neighbors with a heart full of love.