Last night’s show at the Wiltern in Los Angeles with Devendra Banhart and the Grogs provided an entertaining, joyful celebration of the talented Banhart, as well as the members of his back-up band, the Grogs.
The Wiltern has the same early 1900s theater feel of Oakland’s Fox Theater, affording an equally beautiful backdrop to any show. The Wiltern is slightly less decorated than the Fox, but its tiered standing – with a limit on how many people are allowed on each tier – made for a significantly less claustrophobic concert experience than most venues.
Opening for Devendra Banhart was Dorothy, a gospel-influenced solo artist whose voice was very deep and distinct. For this show being her sixth ever, Dorothy did a decent job of showcasing her unique sound, although having live back-up vocals or a choir instead of playing back-up vocals from a laptop would have augmented her voice a bit better. Although hearing a voice like Dorothy’s was interesting and certainly not commonplace, her back-up vocals during one song in Devendra Banhart’s set were a bit more enjoyable than hearing her singing solo. With more time and performance experience, however, Dorothy will likely master the full effect of her incredibly distinct voice and lend a new sound to whatever music projects she pursues.
When Devendra Banhart and his back-up band, the Grogs, took stage shortly after Dorothy ended her set, a refreshing burst of energy and general liveliness permeated the Wiltern. Devendra’s clothing choice of a bright yellow sweater reflected the sunny happiness that Banhart and the Grogs communicated throughout the entire first half of the set. After playing a few songs with the Grogs, Banhart took the stage alone with his acoustic guitar and played several of his solo songs, including the very endearing “Little Yellow Spider.” During his solo performance, Banhart mentioned that he and the band had been touring in San Francisco, where he once attended art school and eventually got discovered, and listed off all the weird animal parts he had eaten there. He even told the audience, “Much of my happiness comes from pork,” as he launched into another optimistic tune. During his time without the Grogs, Banhart also played a few songs from early in his career when he opened for Entrance, saying that, lately, “[he has] become nostalgic … because now, apparently, [he is] an old woman.” Banhart not only kept his solo performance interesting with his awkward small talk, but his exaggerated mouth movements during each song also prevented the boredom that might be associated with watching someone sitting in a chair and playing acoustic guitar, especially in a large theater.
When the Grogs rejoined Banhart on stage, the mood of the concert shifted from the purely happy-go-lucky, Caribbean-infused sound of the first half of the show into a more intense rock vibe. Throughout the show with his bandmates, it was clear that Devendra Banhart is no egoistic stage-hog, no matter how much the man may like pork. Each of the members of the Grogs took charge of one song that showcased their individual talents, and Banhart was clearly happy to step into the background to give them their chance in the limelight. Seeing this kind of friendship and teamwork among the band members was incredibly refreshing, and it was a pleasure to experience the members’ individual talents, as well as how their talents came together to form some truly impressive music.
It was an absolute pleasure to witness Devendra Banhart and the Grogs share their enthusiasm for the music they make with an audience. Banhart, with his awkward stop-and-go walk-dancing and occasional jig-like tossing up of a leg, as well as his friendliness toward Dorothy, his bandmates, and the audience, made an especially endearing and congenial impression, making it no surprise that everyone who attended the concert walked out of the Wiltern with smiles turning up the corners of their mouth and thoughts of happiness and sunshine.