Devendra Banhart braces the stage with nothing but a guitar, an amp, a petite orange chair and a sweater that could very well have been passed down from his grandmother. He sits, legs crossed and begins a solo 30-minute set that drowns the crowd into speechless observation.
Banharts eight album, Mala debuted March 12th and the SXSW audience were the lucky sons’ who got to hear five of the fourteen tracks first. Banhart has always been an eclectic fellow, once dressing in women clothing, singing of marrying little boys and settling with long, tangled locks but these days he seems to me a softer kind of man, trading in the long hair, the bachelor life, and (at times) women clothing. While playing new tracks “Daniel” “Cristobal Risque” and “Never Seen Such Good Things” Banhart used his voice as the main instrument – powerfully delivering narrative lyrics, softly whispering the chorus and honing his vibrato with precision.
The most humbling moment for both audience and performer happened mid performance. With a little hiccup start he began a song again, only to say, “I can’t play this right now. I’ll play a different song. No, no, I can play this song.” He paused and then unabashed offered, “It’s just such a sad song.” He followed by delivering an utterly haunting and visceral performance of “The Body Breaks.” And when he bellowed the lyrics, “the body burns strong until mine is with yours then mine will burn on / my flesh sings out it sings come put me out,” the audience sat silent. It was apparent they too felt the power of what Devendra meant.