Marveling at “Ape in Pink Marble”

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An intimate look at Devendra Banhart’s clandestine performance and ninth album

Words and Photos by Nancy Soriano Contributor

On Sept. 27, Devendra Banhart performed at the Club Bahia in Los Angeles following the release of his latest album, “Ape in Pink Marble.” Although his set list was nineteen songs long with room for an encore, Banhart only played four songs from this new album. 

His stage presence was charming, captivating, and fully immersive while remaining personable with his various checks on how the audience was faring after each song, often preceded by, “Mis amigos, todo bien?” 

During his performance, Banhart articulates the emotions of his songs by adding hand gestures and the swaying of his hips. He uses his body, essentially, to embody the various characters of whose perspectives he writes from. 

Sometimes the audience would laugh, other times they would be silent and observational, and, when his hips began to sway, appreciative. 

His band was composed of Noah Georgeson on guitar, Steinbrick on keyboard and guitar, Todd Dahlhoff on bass, and Gregory Rogrove on drums. 

They made live versions of the songs almost indistinguishable from their studio counterparts except for “Theme of a Taiwanese Woman in Lime Green,” which was played acoustically during the set that Banhart performed before the rest of the band joined him. 

This song showcases some of Banhart’s bossa nova influences that may have come from his close friend and Brazilian pop artist, Rodrigo Amarante.

 Although Banhart’s sounds have changed over the years, the overarching theme of love remains a constant and is best showcased by his crooning of “There is no one in the world that I love/And that no one is you” during the chorus of this song.

Silence is not something that you’d expect towards the end of an artist’s set; but uncomfortable shuffling, clanging of beer bottles against the floor, and a stray cough are what met Banhart’s sixteenth song, “Linda.”

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 “Linda” is a slow paced song, in the perspective of a woman, where Banhart croons lyrics that make you empathize with her loneliness until you get about three minutes in. Silence follows with only the strum of a guitar interjecting itself, into the space that Banhart has effectively emptied, every six seconds or so. 

The audience, unsure of what to do with their discomfort, quietly waited as he finished the song and there was a moment’s hesitation before they clapped. Meanwhile, on stage, the band sat in contemplative silence observing the reactions.

This is the tone of “Ape in the Pink Marble,” Banhart’s ninth album after a three-year hiatus. Although he began his career as a folk artist in 2002, to call him a folk artist now would be a disservice to how his music has evolved over the years. 

As the new record shows, Banhart includes instruments such as the koto, a traditional Japanese instrument, to compose subdued melodies that are not easily noticed if played in the background. This is a far cry from his folk compositions that are not as passively presented.

While “Ape in the Pink Marble” is not as upbeat as its predecessors, it’s not meant to be and this is a good thing. 

Combining a variety of strings, with a greater emphasis on melody than percussion, Banhart presents various narratives cut from the same cloth of loneliness that overshadow the life of city dwellers. 

While the idea of love is constant throughout the record, it is more of the stitching that holds together the crowded isolation that individuals can only find in large urban centers. 

The concept of an album that can play in the background and only be noticed in its silences embodies a larger concept that plays with the notion that only certain stories get told. This is evident in the perspectives that Banhart chooses to portray as well as the clandestine way it is presented.

 If intimate narratives about seemingly mundane people interest you, Banhart’s new album is definitely one to listen to.

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