The jam-band scene isn't exactly lacking in long-haired tunesmiths with a penchant for revisiting the sound of the Summer of Love, but the vast majority seem like they'd be just as happy slinging their sonic hash in any setting, clad in whatever duds might help draw a receptive audience. Devendra Banhart, on the other hand, has the spirit of that bygone era down pat -- a purposeful flower-child guilelessness that lets cosmic observations fly freely, sans concern about where they may ultimately land.

The jam-band scene isn’t exactly lacking in long-haired tunesmiths with a penchant for revisiting the sound of the Summer of Love, but the vast majority seem like they’d be just as happy slinging their sonic hash in any setting, clad in whatever duds might help draw a receptive audience. Devendra Banhart, on the other hand, has the spirit of that bygone era down pat — a purposeful flower-child guilelessness that lets cosmic observations fly freely, sans concern about where they may ultimately land.

Over the course of this lengthy, occasionally rambling Gotham perf, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter played both the hip priest and the court jester, injecting some songs with burning passion, delivering others with an elfin wit that recalled, at various times, both Donovan and pre-glam Marc Bolan.

Those influences were particularly strong on the set’s smattering of acoustic perfs, for which Banhart settled into a folding chair — in a concession to larger venues, he no longer plays seated cross-legged on the floor — to showcase his intricate finger-picking.

In the company of his backing band, the jovially named Hairy Fairy, Banhart traded his falsetto-prone troubadour trill for a more sensual vibe reminiscent of Jim Morrison, if the Lizard King had focused on poetry rather than leather pants and the phallocentric attitude.

Their jamming, particularly on songs culled from Banhart’s recently released Beggar’s Banquet album “Cripple Crow,” brought forth both Quicksilver Messenger Service-style guitar mantras (on display for “Long Haired Child”) and subtle Latin-flavored rhythms redolent of the singer’s formative years in Venezuela.

While his refusal to directly acknowledge the here and now, with the exception of unspecific peace paeans like “I Heard Somebody Say,” might seem like a bit of role-playing, Banhart’s unflappable spaciness came across as entirely authentic — as if he’d simply stare blankly when told there’s no such thing as a spider capable of channeling Henny Youngman.

That attitude makes Banhart’s work a decidedly acquired taste, but when it reaches taste buds attuned to such stuff, it invariably creates a convert ready to spread the freak-folk gospel.

Devendra Banhart

Webster Hall; 1,300 capacity; $25 top

Production

Presented inhouse.

Cast

Band: Devendra Banhart, Andy Cabic, Noah Georgeson, Luckey Remington, Otto Hauser. Reviewed Oct. 20, 2005.
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