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- $25 tickets on-sale now! http://www.ticketweb.com/t3/sale/SaleEventDetail?dispatch=loadSelectionD... doors at 7pm / showtime 8pm NON REFUNDABLE / GENERAL ADMISSION Insofar as anything about Devendra Banhart was ever considered "underrated," the man rarely got enough credit for his sense of humor. He was often called "playful" or "mischievous," or some other lightly stepping compliment that aligned more comfortably with the image of him as the kind and gentle Cosmically Transcendent Avatar of Freak-Folk. But check his track record: "This Beard Is For Siobhan", "Chinese Children", "The Beatles", Megapuss, and, oy vey, "Shabop Shalom"-- dude's got jokes. If you still don't get the picture, witness the title of his latest album Mala. It's a term of endearment that loosely translates to "sweetie pie" in the native tongue of his fiancée, Serbian artist Ana Kraš. But as a guy who frequently sings in Spanish, Banhart must be very aware of how most people will initially read it-- especially in light of the artistic freefall he's been in for the past six or so years. If he's baiting us with a pun, it's a great relief to find out he's earned the right to fuck around, as Mala is Banhart's best record in nearly a decade-- largely because it's his loosest and funniest. While not exactly a trend within itself, it's interesting to see how Banhart's latest follows a similar route to recent solo albums from Christopher Owens and Jim James, longhairs who had similarly been burdened with messianic praise and rock savior archetypes. Like those men, Banhart has eased back on multiple levels after increasingly ambitious records, digging up pre-Beatles concepts of pop and rock while writing from non-punk states such as loving with levity and aging with grace. Mala's no less diverse than Cripple Crow or Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon, but it's exponentially less heavy-handed in its genre-hopping. As the lovely instrumental "The Ballad of Keenan Milton" attests, he hasn't completely foresworn solo acoustic performance, but otherwise, these songs are short and spare, little more than reverbed electric guitar accompanied by light drumming and rudimentary synth tones. It retroactively posits him as something of a missing link between Ariel Pink and Owens, which is an accomplishment within itself. Most importantly, these are by far Banhart's most plainspoken and legible songs. Considering they're in the form of soft-shoe jazz or playful R&B, there isn't urgency per se, so much as immediacy resulting from how Mala often feels like snippets taken from Banhart's daily life. "Daniel" namechecks bars and street names as well as "waiting in line to see Suede play," while the record's cloaking, murky production gives the impression that he stills lives on a more mysterious plane than most of us. It also gives Banhart the freedom to get a little goofy even when Mala sounds dead sober. The muffled disco strut of "Für Hildegard Von Bingen" reimagines the 12th-century mystic as "a VJ on location" and leaves it as just a passing fancy Banhart felt worthy of capture rather than some high-minded metaphor. Likewise, "A Gain" is more of an interlude than a song, about a minute of free-form violin and Banhart muttering lines about being a disappointment to his mother, hair gel, and the W Hotel. As he rushes to jam in every last word in the line "love is gonna be a long lost biological father," he's laughing at his own emo capacity as well as the nakedly "confessional" format. For the most part, Mala makes good on its titular inspiration by way of including plenty of silly songs about love. Which is different than "silly love songs" in a crucial way-- Banhart's light touch with the more embarrassing aspects of relationships cuts against the occasional whimsy, and his self-deprecation feels earned, humanizing him as someone who can be a jerk in mundane ways: a guy who dated starlets but probably got yelled at for leaving the toilet seat up. Banhart takes on a deeper register that's equally suave and fatuous on "Never Seen Such Good Things", a song that borders on rhinestone cowboy pop. He laments a lost love with momentary nobility before the gawky phonetics and crude sentiment of "if we ever make sweet love again/ I'm sure it would be quite disgusting" make it a multilayered joke at the expense of our faulty memories regarding exes. This is even more pronounced on "Your Fine Petting Duck", a duet where Banhart and Kras play ex-lovers on opposite ends of a proposed reconciliation; Kras wants him back, Banhart is quick to remind her of the numerous ways in which he was a total ass: "If he ever is untrue/ Just remember I was too... and so much more so." For whatever reason, it switches midway to a lo-fi electro-pop thump while Banhart and Kras sing in German, because... why not? Even if it's fiction and decidedly anti-romantic in content, the feel is that of an inside joke between two people who really like each other; in practice, it's an ironic Valentine that's a powerfully effective demonstration of the conspiratorial giddiness of new love. So it's best to think of Mala as a new beginning for Banhart than a triumphant return to form-- for one thing, this is not the sort of record that will bring back the diehards who felt he fell off the moment he traded in his four-track, to say nothing of cleaning up his image and reneging on the promise of "Long Haired Child". And he still isn't the most fastidious editor of his own work; on the whole, it's for the best that his mojo and humor are given equal billing on Mala, though he should've kept the Zappa pastiche "Hatchet Wound" to himself. But one overly bawdy locker room joke is a small price to pay as Banhart sounds refreshed and relieved here, someone happily on the outside looking in rather than trying to situate himself as a countercultural star, and finally taking the opportunity to show that he doesn't take himself as seriously as a lot of people take him.
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