Devendra Banhart performed to an appreciative and enthusiastic crowd on Friday, Oct. 25 at the Yost Theater in Santa Ana.
The Yost Theater is located next to a plaza in the revamped Santa Ana downtown area. Wall art covers many of the buildings around the theater. There is a mosaic mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe tucked in a well-lit corner of the plaza. Lights are strung up across the buildings. There are fake gas lamps with planters half-way up their poles and banners announcing farmer’s markets and art walks. There is a Western outlet store with Norteño music spilling out from its doors even at 7:30 at night. $3.50 for parking.
The theater itself has a beautiful sign—vibrant neon pink and cyan with large modern-looking font. It definitely draws the eye. Inside the theater, it’s cold. The A/C is working overtime. It has the feel of an old mansion. The floors are wooden and the bathrooms are way too nice—wood-paneled stalls with stainless steel locks that still feel secure in their screws. Clean sinks, too. The theater design is like a reserved art-deco style, highlighted by some beautiful, olive green curtains hung around the edges of the main room, studded with gold painted geometrical light fixtures.
The bar is not well stocked. The bartenders are forced to line up their sad cans of Bud Light, Coors Light and Angry Orchard Cider in the empty, cavernous shelves. $6 for a can of Bud Light, $8 for a Stella, though. They also have a snack bar tucked into a corner of the building. I don’t know why anyone would want some Red Vines, Peanut M&Ms or stadium-grade nachos at a concert, but they are there in case you do.
The main room has the stage in the front, raised about 4 feet off the ground floor. The floor is lacquered wood paneling. The pit area, a pen really, is surrounded on all sides. The sides of the main room are raised to stage level and extend down the sides of the room, like open hallways with iron railing. There are staircases at the end of the edges that lead to backstage. An ominous, bald-headed security guard in a black suit prevents entry as if any of the half-emaciated vegans attending a Devendra Banhart concert would even try to get backstage. That was a joke. Only a joke.
DJ Zilla and Cola Boyy open the night—a combination of electro-funk with pop edges. The crowd is hesitant at first (not many go to a Devendra Banhart concert to dance) but by the end of their set, they become enthusiastic. Great opening band. Cola Boyy is from Oxnard.
Some guy with Assasin’s Creed insignia-shaped hooped earrings starts dancing with his hands, gesturing to no one, or maybe to an invisible partner. He twists and curls his hands, unfolds them like a flower in a time-lapse. A girl, the girl in white, picks up dancing at the back of the pit area where no one else is. She’s wearing a kind of white traditional Cinco de Mayo looking dress. She picks the sides of it up lightly with two fingers as she twirls, like a matador, coaxing life out of it and the crowd. The girl in white is killing it, even if most of the crowd are standing around awkwardly. Me, too. Me, too. Who expects electro-funk at a Devendra Banhart concert?
The crowd is a good mix of people. Young and old, but mostly mid to late 20s, to early to mid-30s. A lot of couples. Maybe that’s just me noticing. A fantastic conversation takes place next to me. A guy asks his friend/date (idk) if he looks like he is trying too hard with what he is wearing. Girl, in response, “No, I wouldn’t say you’re trying too hard… I’ve never seen you try at all.” Brilliant stuff.
The room gets, at most, to a 5/8ths capacity, maybe a generous 2/3rds, but the people who are there are enthusiastic. There is a low amount of phone usage for a concert. Lots of buzzing conversations. One woman grips a cup of red wine in her teeth as she ties a jacket around her waist. A few intoxicated women push their way towards the front. I catch myself getting annoyed. This isn’t that kind of concert. Dirty looks all around. They are too drunk to care. It’s a happy crowd overall, though.
Banhart and band come out and the crowd roars. They have a lovely painted flower visual backdrop. The black background makes the colors really stand out. Banhart and band play a mix of new songs from his new album Ma along with past hits. “Fig in Leather” was great. “Fur Hildegard von Bingen” was great. “My Boyfriend’s in the Band” was great live—better live than on record. It’s like a fusion of Leonard Cohen dry sarcasm and '50s rockabilly harmonic exuberance. And the verses are in Spanish. Great stuff.
The performance is not limited to music only. There are dashes of skit comedy and theater thrown in, too, as well as a reading of text messages from a mother recently relocated to Mexico, now questioning her new neighbor’s choice in vehicle (“A White Landrover?”). The skit comedy is centered around the Shwarma Saga, parts 1-3, in which band members complain/commiserate over a disappointing meal. Lebna anyone? You would think hummus would come with shwarma. You would think. The bass player is dubbed “pantalones” for the night, too. Can’t not like it. Hindu symbols on the kick drum serve as eyes for a scribbly smiley face doodle, a pretty good symbol for the Devendra Banhart ethos. The performance is just plain fun.
Other notable highlights include drunk as fuck girls grinding to Devendra Banhart—insert Kevin Garnett “Anything is Possible!” gif; almost getting elbowed in the face by previously mentioned drunk girls; previously mentioned drunk girls not being quiet, knocking into people; people shushing the drunk girls; dirty looks all around again, with some stifled laughter to boot; one of the drunk girls ending up dehydrated, and so they disappear for the remainder of the night. Hydration takes us all in the end, I suppose.
Halfway through the set, the band leaves and Banhart takes requests from the audience, performing the songs solo on his classical guitar. The crowd is absolutely loving it. He plays “Golden Girls,” which was stunning, as was “Carolina.” The crowd sings along the whole way. The set becomes crazy intimate. The tender songs become all the more tender in juxtaposition to the sarcastic, humorous and theatrical.
Quote: someone told Devendra as he walked the streets of Santa Ana earlier in the day that there is “nothing better in the world than a burger.” I’m inclined to agree with the sentiment, but Devendra says disco and so he launches into their disco song. Bass player has that funk “stank” face—looks good, although I wish I could hear his bass more. The overall sound is kind of muddy. They definitely needed to turn the guitarist up.
The band finishes up with an encore performance of “Carmensita.” It packs a punch previous songs did not have and, again, the crowd loves it. I spot the girl in white at the corner of the stage, still dancing towards the end of the set. What an icon she has become. Filled her destiny. Became the vessel of voyage for the whole audience. Maybe just me. Probably just me. But I saw, I saw. I decided to take a lap around the block after the concert. Almost got run over by two skateboard kids rounding a corner. Should have known better. Still, $3.50 for parking. What a steal.