Rare or Unreleased 24: Devendra Banhart

In 2004, your trusty Toilet Guppies correspondent had the good fortune of living in the world metropolis second possibly only to New York City, London. In those days, Devendra Banhart was the hardest working bearded lady in showbiz and would stop by practically every other month to play intimate gigs at intimate venues (Bush Hall, Water Rats, the ICA), sometimes accompanied by Andy Cabic of Vetiver.

Banhart would perch on top of a table, assuming the lotus position, and mesmerise everyone with the vision that is the fleshy, elastic hole peering out through his beard, now e-nun-ci-a-ting, now squeezing words and melody out through clenched and baring teeth, variously exhausting the oral cavity's different acoustic possibilities with his trembling tenor. His almost absent-minded sense of melody and the ease with which his fingers would pick the strings of his guitar and slide confidently up and down its neck made his performance seem so effortless. He was a natural. Not since listening to Skip Spence's Oar for the first time had I heard something so other. Yes, I know, everyone's unique, but there are degrees of difference, and Banhart was so different that you knew that you could never, under any circumstances and in a thousand years, come up with what he just did. And you didn't know of anyone else who could, either. So that left him

I used to leave those gigs regretting I hadn't documented them. The companion albums he was promoting—Rejoicing in the Hands of the Golden Empress and Niño rojo—make up nothing short of a masterpiece, but to see and hear them unfold before your very eyes and ears is something else completely. And now, of course, Banhart tours big venues with his space reggae backing band, and his output, although still great, has moved on from that alien quality that grabbed everybody's attention in the first place and on to something equally beautiful, but less other, more subtle.

So I was delighted when I first found this, a documentation of what Banhart sounded like live and solo back then. I love it when an artist performs his songs differently than on his albums, and it's all here: Banhart's added, warbling «whoah-whoah-whoah»'ing on «The Body Breaks»; his suggestion that we now «have a glass of wine / Now let's have another... have another... have another... have another... have another glass of wine» (six glasses!) on «Will Is My Friend»; and his half a minute(!) of stuttering «V-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-[deep breath]-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-v-viva Las Vegas!» on the song that first endeared me to that most beautiful man known to Man («Poughkeepsie»). There's even an aching non-album gem, «In Golden Empress Hands», which the singer has referred to as «the first song after Rejoicing in the Hands and the last song before Niño rojo».

Without further ado, here he is, performing live on French radio station France Inter for one of their White Sessions, on 16 September 2004. Enjoy!

  1. Wake Up, Little Sparrow
  2. At the Hop
  3. Little Yellow Spider
  4. We All Know
  5. Will Is My Friend
  6. A Ribbon
  7. An Island
  8. It's a Sight to Behold
  9. The Body Breaks
  10. In Golden Empress Hands
  11. Poughkeepsie

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