Words by: Dennis Cook
Devendra Banhart & The Spiritual Bonerz :: 09.06.07 :: Rio Theatre :: Santa Cruz, CA
Devendra Banhart & The Spiritual Bonerz :: 09.07.07 :: Palace of Fine Arts :: SF, CA
The energy shifts perceptibly when these modern day gypsy ramblers walk into a room. Without a word one senses that something is going to happen, the game is afoot and we've only to answer the hound horn that calls us to tear over hill and dale. Dressed in finery that ranged from Wild Wild West card shark to bohemian gondolier, Devendra Banhart and the newly christened Spiritual Bonerz (the "z" is silent) have a way about them. They carry their bristling, far ranging creativity in their skin. It peeks out - the unseen winking at the visible – in the way they shake and gesture, and especially when Banhart's pearly whites shine from his thick beard. With these gents, to borrow a line from Banhart in Santa Cruz, one just knows they'll be "experiencing the consistent cosmic giggle" of the universe.
| Devendra Banhart by Lauren Dukoff|
With Banhart's new record, Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, not released until September 25, they've bravely chosen to tour the fresh material (much of it in Spanish) almost exclusively - a move that took both the Santa Cruz and San Francisco audiences a little while to adjust to. Throughout both nights people barked requests for "Chinese Children" and "This Is The Way" rather than join the conjuring ceremony happening around them. There's an emotional arc at work, one that starts in stillness and becomes more explicit and extrovert with time. From the opening invitation of plucked, caressed nylon strings and sensuously muttered Spanish to the eventual foot clompin' rave-ups of "Long Haired Child" and "I Feel Just Like A Child" (two of a handful of previously released tunes played either night), we were taken on a journey. We left from one point and arrived at another. It's not on any map and few cartographers could sketch the way, but I assure you we traveled plenty.
If you're lucky enough to have heard Smokey Rolls then you heard what were already highly original, fragrantly cross-pollinated hybrids shoot fresh spores, thriving under the care and attention of the best band Banhart has ever fielded. After a small multitude of names, they've settled on The Spiritual Bonerz, which consists of Banhart (lead vocals, guitar), Vetiver's Andy Cabic (guitar), the reported leader of a Paris mime troupe Luckey Remington (bass), the impressively versatile Pete Newsom (keys, percussion), Priestbird's Greg Rogove (drums) and Smokey co-producer Noah Georgeson (who also did a bang up job opening both evenings, showing a vintage showman's flair, telling stories and weaving his welcoming compositions winningly with Rogove at his back). This music, especially the newer stuff, is a fluid mix of pure soft rock, Tropicalismo, Velvet Underground strut, Batucada bounce, liquid light jams, Nyahbinghi fluctuations and Tutti Frutti soda shop bop. Not many groups could pull off that crazy sonic collage, let alone do it as seamlessly, organically and delightfully as the Bonerz.
| Devendra Banhart & The Spiritual Bonerz :: Santa Cruz|
09.06 :: By Alissa Anderson
As they careened from a rhythm storm full of slashing lines into a doo-wop pocket you almost waited for them to stumble. Each time they planted the landing - eyes googly, shoulders shaking off the free fall, grins fast following each transition. There was never a moment's doubt that this band loves making this music, which proved terrifically infectious to everyone gathered. The music was never wanting, and if largely an unknown quantity to the majority, it was only one's personal expectations and longing for the familiar that could hold you back in such jubilant company.
The slow build - the stirring of enflamed loins, birch bark, dreams and African sands – took time to boil but once properly simmered the individual elements dissolved into a wholly new flavor, a taste of something that collaborates with the universe in erasing our obsession with categories and fences, hard distinctions disappearing into a saucy lil' spoonful. Or put more simply in Banhart's own words: "Cook me in your breakfast and put me on your plate 'cause you know I taste great."
While the setlist was almost identical for these two shows they differed in tone simply because of their surroundings (The Little Rascals' lets-put-on-a-show vibe in Santa Cruz - a hallmark of the great gigs like this one put together by Totem Music & (((folkYEAH!))) - versus the toney, old world classical feel in SF) and the general audience disposition (laidback freaky people shuffling amiably in Santa Cruz versus a seated, reserved SF crowd that had to be asked to move closer and engage before they stirred much). Santa Cruz was more freewheeling and peppered with more between song tangents. In SF, they seemed more focused, aiming to nail things they'd missed the previous night, which, by gum, they did, often lifting our collective feet a few millimeters above the fray with their playing.
A few bits that stand out:
-Rogove's original "Bright Wind," which has a patient, heart-stroking feel that's hard to fully articulate but moved me deeply, especially in SF. There's something of Nico and Slim Whitman to this "Wind" but those are only ghosts in Rogove's attic.
-Smokey Rolls gems "Lover" and "Shabop Shalom" proved serious smile bombs in concert, the product of an independent imagination that embraces the ways of young lovers and their need for boot scootin' ditties.
| Devendra Banhart & The Spiritual Bonerz by Lauren Dukoff|
-The vocals of the entire group are wonderful, overlapping and skipping together with equal facility. There's a Zappa-like playfulness to some of the narrative portions (yes, there's actual tale-telling in a few numbers) and chorus whoops and hollers that's tough to pull off without egg on your face. Their mugs remained hirsute but egg-less throughout. And up front, Banhart's croon has never been more intoxicating. He carries reverberations from Cat Stevens, Caetano Veloso and Tim Hardin but his pipes pour out a sound that creeps into every crevice of you, seeping into your ground water, revitalizing and moistening dry parts.
-The revamped Noah Georgeson original "Find Shelter" was a total delight both evenings. The title cut from Georgeson's gently charming solo debut now has a tough, fast backbeat but retains the aerial lilt on the choruses. It's the kind of revisioning one expects from Dylan, where a song's character shifts radically but remains true.
-Laying out well is a skill not a lot of musicians possess. Every member of The Spiritual Bonerz had great instincts about when to shut up and listen. The usual musico-ego one encounters in bands is largely absent, replaced by a willfully shared spotlight and intense, observant collaboration. It's a cliché but the whole definitely exceeded the constituent parts... though these were some parts!
When I spoke to Banhart in 2006 he talked about his music being "naturalismo," an evolutionary offshoot of Brazil's Tropicalismo. The name didn't stick but the idea did - music emerging from a natural place, one free of genre restrictions or even personal hang-ups of right or wrong ways of doing things. Maybe it's fitting that what Banhart and his boys do doesn't have a proper title. Maybe it's best experienced for what it is and each of us can make of it what we will. In these cities, both close to Pacific Ocean, both rife with far left idealists, The Spiritual Bonerz did what comes naturally, at least to them. If you opened yourself up to it, if you afforded them patience and a forward leaning spirit, then you got more than you bargained for on these glorious nights.
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