by carl wilson

Can You Name All Six?

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Mrs. Zoilus and I took in the Six Organs of Admittance/Devendra Banhart show at the Music Gallery on Friday night. A packed house full of bright-eyed (and pale-faced) Torontopians bantering intensely about bands and classes and more bands, filling the pews of St. George the Martyr and the aisles and the floor – it was a buoyant place to be.

Wasn’t sure at first how I felt about Mr. Six Organs (Ben Chasney): His intense Faheyesque acoustic guitar picking was compelling, but his singing and speech frequently seemed a little swallowed and awkward - not uncommitted, no, and his melodies and words courageous and vulnerable, yes, full of musical stretches and handstands and yarns yanked inside out unravelled from the Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk & so forth. But I was a'fearing the young rover lacked gut, wondered if it weren’t all a bit too academic, if the sweet fuzziness would ever push on to full heart force.

By the end of the set, when he had his acoustic leaning up the amp so it heaved and groaned like a ship caught in an icefield, and he was crouched on the ground field-hollering out a tune overtop the feedback and slamming his knee regularly on the stage to torque the vibrations of the strings and provide nerve-end percussion – that question was settled like a gangfight.

My affection for Six Organs was only increased when the much-ballyhooed Mr. Banhart came out in full pre-Islam Cat Stevens regalia and shortly brought on his band of bearded brothers. I had come because Banhart's case was nagging at me. I praised his albums when I first discovered him, but over the following year they began to seem less satisfying; by the time I mentioned him in the psych-folk column I was steering clear of endorsement. Sometimes you just need to witness the music in person to resolve mixed feelings: You need to check out the aura, whether it has dimension and colour or you see right through the halo like a smoke ring. Very theoretically dodgy I know. But: I walked away from – actually, walked out on – this show knowing what I thought.

Banhart has charisma to burn and he'd fiddle obliviously on as it did. He's got this fantastic from-the-beyond Tiny Tim-fairyland vocal style and he plays guitar with true musical facility and he’s got the tunes and he’s got the genie of inspiration. He’s been a positive influence on the scene, his personal magnetism pulling the shiny gold stars over to this outside-the-margins folk shit. (The Golden Apples of the Sun collection he curated for Arthur magazine is folktabulous.) But he doesn’t make me feel, want, think, gasp. Mild amusement in three or four songs has become acute annoyment. It’s tossed off, there’s one line in a hundred that doesn’t just slip through your fingers like greasy cookie dough – and frankly he creeps me out.

Mrs. Zoilus asked if this was some kind of cult, and while I teased her about it at the time I can see where the question was coming from: Banhart seems like he's leading some EST scam-seminar, radiating his own sexy self-assurance and bloviating on about how you can get it too if you just sign up, maybe sleep over, maybe lend him a couple grand, etc. etc. In fact he grew up partly on some kind of ashram, some sort of orange-tissue-paper-robe compound, so maybe it's not all the kid's fault. But I'd rather break bread with the repo man.

I think Banhart still has the potential to grow up and out of it – he’s got the gift, no question -- but right now there’s just goopy ego syrup at the caramel core of his whole thing. Maybe if I were a groovier, more blown-windows-of-the-mind kind of person, it wouldn’t grate, but I ain’t and it does. By midshow it had turned into a Deadhead-dance-party thing and that was our cue to make an exit. (Stuart Berman of Eye said to me as I slipped by him, “What? You’re going to miss the Ben Harper Love Jam?” which I thought was hilarious.) I’m sure lots of the bright-eyed young things were digging it. Hell they were shouting with spotaneous joy, so pure of heart were they. But y’know, check the parking meters.

(Need a witness? Get the total opposite skinny from For the Records. Who somehow already knew we were there!? And he's got photos.)

Somebody somewhere on the interwebs remarked that Joanna Newsom was “everything I was led to believe Devendra Banhart was” and that’s bang-a-gong bang on: From now on it’s Newsomania and Ban the Banhart around here. (Suggested appellations: "Defakera Banhart!" "Devendra Badheart!" "Defenestratemenow,please Banhart!" "Big Fucking Dealvendra Banhart!" and "Deadvendra Borehead!" Plus did you know his middle name is Obi? After Mr. Wan Kenobi? And that he got his first name from his mom's guru? All true. But ok, I'm getting carried away.) I’ll be picking up some Six Organs of Admittance supersoon as well.

Oh and to show we don’t just hate all hippies by reflex, just most of them on principle: We still vote Animal Collective.

Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Sunday, November 14 at 11:40 PM | Linking Posts | Comments (1)

 

COMMENTS

The leader was here - his breath is felt north of st. clair - his skin senses your discomfort and sends you to wal mart - seek out his colours and he shall reveal your mornings as live-in experiments of a post nasal drip drip drip...

WON'T YOU COME JOIN ME AND MY MERRY BAND OF HIRSUTE TROUBADOURS? TRUST ME FOR I AM devandraaaaaaaaaaa

Posted by original spin on November 17, 2004 7:50 AM

 

 

 

Zoilus by Carl Wilson