LISTENING MIX provides a musical preview for artists visiting the Walker. Combining their work with sounds from a variety of contextual sources, LISTENING MIX can be experienced before or after a performance.
For his two-evening event this weekend, Wind Grove Mind Alone, singer/songwriter Devendra Banhart has gathered a group of collaborators, contemporaries, mentors, and friends. It wasn’t so long ago, however, that he was working with a group of artists he referred to as “The Family.” In this New Weird America movement, Banhart was cast as the key figure willing not only to sketch out the family tree but trace it back to its roots, with a constant willingness to give recognition to his influences. One could consider Wild Grove Mind Alone a sort of culmination of these efforts. As the McGuire stage is shared by Lucky Dragons, Jessica Pratt and Greta Morgan, Helado Negro, William Basinski, Rodrigo Amarante, Hecuba, and Harold Budd with Bradford Ellis, each could be said to embody a unique element of Banhart’s ever-shifting sound.
Banhart’s musical career coincided with the beginning of the century, busking around San Francisco, slowly compiling demo recordings on “shoddy and broken four tracks” and friends’ answering machines. A decade later, fellow San Franciscan Jessica Pratt found success with a similar analogue authenticity, along with a vocalic intimacy that aligns them both with unsung folk forebears like Vashti Bunyan and Linda Perhacs. Banhart’s early aesthetic also effortlessly incorporated Spanish-sung ballads and polyrhythmic samba send-ups, hearkening to his adolescence in Venezuela. Roberto Carlos Lange’s music as Helado Negro has also found a center in an effortless bilinguality, and trades off Latin influences for pop efficacy with a similar ease. These elements also unify Banhart with fellow Venezuelan Rodrigo Amarante, with whom he has collaborated throughout his last several records.
While the decade moved on and The Family grew, so did Banhart’s sound. As his guitar and vocals were integrated into songs by Anhoni, he exchanged the influence of her contemporary William Basinski, a purveyor of sonic intimacy, melancholy, and wonder. This sense of wonder saw shades of klezmer, comedy, art rock, and gospel begin to appear on his records, enacted with the same sense of conviction he had left on answering machines in years prior. Lucky Dragons seem similarly committed to rearranging commonplace sounds, pursuing strange experiments, and retaining an acoustic instrumentation to give their work a sense of distorted familiarity.
After 2009’s What Will We Be, Banhart took a break from music to focus on a love of visual art fostered by his album cover illustrations and selection of tour-mates like Hecuba, a visually-motivated LA duo whose music develops naturally alongside its choreographed, costumed, and projected elements. In 2013, Banhart released his eighth album, Mala, and last year published a book of his art, I Left My Noodle on Ramen Street. The book contains a series of paintings inspired by the minimal piano pieces of Harold Budd, which Banhart had also expressed a wish to emulate on Mala, an album equal parts intimate and ambitious.
Just as in Banhart’s career, Wind Grove Mind Alone confronts a wide spectrum of sounds. Together, they create an ambitious portrait of a family of sounds that continues to grow, and where they’ll wind up next is anyone’s guess. For this listening mix, I’ve paired songs from across Banhart’s discography with collaborators and influences alike: the minimalist soundscapes of Budd and Basinski, the Spanish-sung ballads of Helado Negro, the intimate folk of Pratt and Vashti Bunyan, the heartfelt electronics of Hecuba and Arthur Russell, the abstract experiments of Lucky Dragons, and more.
Wind Grove Mind Alone—a copresentation with the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music Series—will be performed over the course of two evenings in the Walker Art Center’s McGuire Theater. Devendra Banhart will perform with Lucky Dragons, Pratt and Morgan, Helado Negro, and Basinski on Friday, May 13 at 8 pm, and with his full band, Amarante, Hecuba, and Budd and Ellis on Saturday, May 14 at 8 pm. Tickets are currently sold out; a wait list will begin one hour prior to the performance at the Walker box office.