Devendra Banhart and the Grogs please with full-band sound
Devendra Banhart and the Grogs
At the Commodore Ballroom on Friday, March 19
Usually, there’s no audience more patient or mild-mannered than folk-music fans, but Friday night’s crowd for Devendra Banhart and the Grogs was unceremoniously loud and anxious during opening act Dorothy and the Originals.
People yawned behind their pint glasses and scuffed their feet on the floor of the Commodore Ballroom as Dorothy Berry, a one-woman a cappella act from Oakland, California, belted out incomprehensible lyrics while looping vocals through a MacBook.
Dorothy might have been appreciated more if she’d had some Originals with her, but as a solo performer, she lacked energy and her set was probably more suited to a Sunday night spent drinking warm milk than a Friday night anxiously awaiting the freak-folk legend who once dated Natalie Portman.
The venue was packed with those who were all too eager to see the act they had paid $35 for, a fact made obvious by their chatter, which nearly drowned out the less-than-captivating Berry.
When Banhart and the Grogs finally made it on-stage, they kicked off their set with the crowd-pleasing “Long Haired Child”, which immediately had the audience singing along. The Grogs, featuring members of Priestbird and Little Joy, gave Banhart’s classics the muscle they needed for the restless listeners.
But it’s not as if the crowd didn’t appreciate it when the lo-fi songwriter took a short break from the band to play acoustic favourites like “Little Yellow Spider” solo. The ever-humble icon was happy to share the spotlight, and invited Berry back on-stage to sing along with him for one song; she sounded much better with music behind her soulful voice. After their leading man played a few more songs off of Niño Rojo and Cripple Crow, the Grogs rejoined Banhart on stage to pay tribute to Big Star’s Alex Chilton, who had died just two days earlier.
Banhart not only shared the stage with his opening act, he also moved aside to play songs composed by other members of the Grogs. Bassist Lucky Remington sang a number he had written, and Greg Rogrove of Priestbird got his recognition as well.
The longer the jams, the easier it was to see that the audience was digging the full-band sound rather than the soulful solo stuff. And the thicker the air became with that hippie-herb smell, people were less chatty, letting themselves become hypnotized by the magic of the group and its quirky frontman.
The show ended on the upbeat song “Carmensita” off of 2007’s Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon.
Suddenly displaying patience, the crowd waited for an encore but just as quickly as Banhart and the Grogs left the stage, the house lights came on and we were turned back out into the rain.