Clad in the sleekest of all black getups down to the polished Prada oxfords, cleanly-pressed Devendra Banhart sashayed on stage and silently announced to that he indeed was a fancy man. The stage was set with a giant tapestry that displayed Devendra’s hand painted ginormous flowers that mirrored the floral design on the cover of Ma, his newest album.
Ma is multilingual and multicolored, splattered with primary colors and songs that salute Carole King and John Lennon. He released three singles as a prelude to the complete album, each one wildly fun and widely different- “Kantori Ongaku.” “Abre Las Manos,” and “Taking a Page.” With each coveted single release though, my understanding of Devendra’s vision grew- this wasn’t about a cohesive musical aesthetic but rather, a cohesive concept. This album is about those who teach us, who impart wisdom, who guide us the world, and it’s about those who bring us into this world. The album is Devendra’s journey into him becoming a Ma. It is his statement of paternity and maternity. Yet, I was hesitant to like Ma. I couldn’t understand this new role Devendra had chosen to play.
I saw Devendra and his band perform in Boulder with my friend Mimi- we stood front and center. The best way I can describe the experience for me was the feeling of being a preschooler. I imagined huge bugs crawling across the stage, and felt as if every audience member was sitting criss-cross applesauce in a semi circle, googly-eyed. Devendra talked cryptically almost, telling us long, extended, made-up stories about socks and concerts he performed fifty years ago. The kick drum was adorned with a huge smiley face, with the Om symbol for its eyes. The flowers on the tapestry seemed to grow- or I seemed to shrink- becoming more like a child.
He began the concert by performing “Is This Nice?”, a soft song loaded with lessons on how to love and cry and create. Give this song a listen for references to John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy,” if nothing else. Devendra sang maybe 5 or 6 songs off of Ma before dragging a wooden stool and his acoustic guitar on stage and asking the audience what they’d like to hear. Some people ecstatically shouted their fave songs’ title, others widened their eyes and raised their hands waiting for teacher to call on them. I was in the second boat of people, and when called on, I requested Devendra play “Shame,” an old, silly song about boobs and playing in the sun. “Shame” is a song that encapsulated my former image of Devendra Banhart as an artist. It’s a song that makes you want to giggle and dance and let yourself be like your childhood self (the song does come off an EP called “I Feel Just Like a Child” after all). Devendra looked almost shocked at my request, it’s one of his oldest songs. He thanked me for asking to hear it, but said the band didn’t know how to play it. Admittedly I was sad. Unable to hear that song live! A minor heartbreak.
But thinking about it now, “Shame” didn’t fit into that concert. While I always thought of Devendra Banhart as having the fervent feel of a child, I had missed that he had changed. His music contained more teachings than before. It was less spastic. It felt put together and organized, in the way some parental figures do. Caterpillar has become a butterfly! Sprout has become a bean! Devendra has become a Ma!
You can read about Devendra Banhart, look at his tour dates, and access his music on his website, linked here.