Beneath the McGuire Theater’s ornate black balconies, Venezuelan-American singer/songwriter Devendra Banhart and a handful of other artists (selected by Banhart himself) played “Wind Grove Mind Alone,” a two-night, sold-out concert series at the Walker Art Center. Genres ranged from Spanish folk to avant-garde, electronica to spoken word, making the shows perfect candidates for the Liquid Music series.
Friday: Devendra Banhart, Lucky Dragons, Jessica Pratt and Greta Morgan, Helado Negro, William Basinski
“I’ll open it up and play a couple new songs and we’ll have fun.” Devendra Banhart introduced his acoustic set in his usual endearingly awkward fashion from his spotlit chair in the center of a dark stage. He opened with a song off of his new album, Ape in Pink Marble, which he and his band just completed last week:
“Love, don’t you worry
Even though it’s time to go.
There is no one that I love
And that no one is you.”
A few lines in, Banhart stumbled, laughed, forgetting his lyrics. “Nothing like f—ing up a song right off the bat. If it looks like I messed up…avant-garde,” he said, the packed theater giggling.
Banhart played a five-song set, including new numbers about wearing sandals in communal bathrooms and celebrating his bandmate Joe’s baby, and an acoustic version of “Carmensita” from Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon (2007). The quick, 20-minute set was actually quite generous in the sense that, as Banhart told the crowd, his dream music festival would consist of 100 bands playing for one minute each.
As soon as he stepped off stage, the curtain drew to a black screen. LA-based experimental music duo Lucky Dragons sat at a table across from one another with their Macs, performing a rhythmic poem-song. Each typed letter played on the screen and through the speakers as the phonics of each letter, creating what sounded nothing short of a cacophonous, crescendoing, underwater alien abduction. In terms of the emotional evocation of art, Lucky Dragons nailed it. In terms of a pleasant concert experience, my anxiety was through the roof.
Next, folk singer/songwriter Jessica Pratt played acoustic guitar and sang, Greta Morgan accompanying her on electric guitar and keyboard. Pratt’s voice, like a Stevie Nicks/Lola Marsh mash-up, was beautiful, shy, and sweet.
Following Pratt, Helado Negro stepped onto the dark stage. Even in minimal lighting, it was impossible to miss his gloriously enormous hair and the giant tinsel monsters/formless human disco balls that swayed in slow motion on either side of the Latin musician. The reverberation of the mic amplified his slow movements and vibrato as he played songs new and old, slow and funky, English and Spanish.
Banhart joined Negro on stage for their collaboration track, “Young, Latin & Proud,” during which the two played guitar and sang, improvising much of it.
Devendra came out sang + played Young, Latin and Proud w me last night. What a great evening such a love fest for sure. ❤️ @devendrabanhartofficial ❤️ #luckydragons ❤️ @jpblues ❤️@williambasinski ❤️ @walkerartcenter ❤️ @liquidmusicseries 👻 @erinlynnsmith @albertamirais 👻😍✌🏽️👨🏾 best times ever! Thank u Devendra for inviting me really a treasure of a night a gift from a good human. 📹 @monicasayshey
William Basinski concluded the show with a request to “purple down the lights” in honor of Prince. I braced myself for an emotional “Purple Rain” cover, but instead was hit with 20 minutes of haunting elevator music and ambient noise coming from two spinning tape reels and a laptop. Perhaps the most powerful moment of the performance was the silence immediately afterward — the sold-out theater held its collective breath in a long moment of respect before bursting into applause.
After the show, Banhart and many of the other artists spent time talking with fans at the bar. Banhart was particularly personable and patient: He took photos, chatted about tattoos, signed albums, and drew personalized pictures on posters. I introduced myself since we’d talked on the phone earlier in the week, and he greeted me with a hug and kiss and sincere “thank you.” (In short, my favorite musician is the best.)
Saturday: Devendra Banhart + band, Rodrigo Amarante, Hecuba, Harold Budd, Bradford Ellis, and Veda Hille
Night two began with Devendra Banhart and his band playing “Golden Girls” from their most recent album, Mala (2013), until technical difficulties ensued: “I think the house died. Everything’s dead.” The band, of course, laughed it off.
They continued with more new songs and another from Mala, “Never Seen Such Good Things.” The new music ranged from soft and sad (lyrics including “please don’t love me because you’re through hating you”) to much more electronic and poppy than typical Banhart tracks. In our interview, he said he keeps playing “the same old song,” but if the seven new ones he performed are reflective of Ape in Pink Marble, Banhart isn’t giving himself nearly enough credit.
Brazilian artist Rodrigo Amarante took the stage with further technical difficulties that turned Banhart from headliner to roadie. Neither musician seemed to be particularly fazed, however — Amarante was quick to announce, “I’m the luckiest man in the world.”
His performance was heartwrenchingly beautiful and lullaby-like from beginning to end, opening with the Portuguese “Nada Em Vão” and concluding with the English “The Ribbon,” both from Cavalo (2014). After his set, people all around me were echoing my own thoughts: Damn, he’s good.
The energy was dialed up 50 notches with LA duo Hecuba. Jon Beasley danced in place, bent in half at the waist while controlling hundreds of knobs and dials without touching them, magically changing the electronic music’s pitch and volume with the wave of his hand. Isabelle Albuquerque stood to his right, singing with a deep, monotonous voice and dancing with passion and desperation; their performance was delightfully bizarre.
Composers Harold Budd and Bradford Ellis and singer/songwriter Veda Hille brought the show to a close with meditative music and poetry, during which I lost track of time and space, and a few members of Banhart’s band stretched out on the floor in front of me to take it all in.
Over the course of the two nights, performers moved freely across the stage, through the crowd, and to the Walker Café. The humble talent and vast artistry packed into two nights made Wind Grove Mind Alone unlike any music festival I’d ever experienced.
Rachel Johnston is a writer, designer, and music junkie from the Twin Cities who attends college at Augustana University in Sioux Falls, S.D. Read more of her music-related writing at thebridgemusicblog.com.