Washington Post, 6/24/2004
Devendra Banhart at Iota
If Aimee Mann and Michael Penn hadn't already grabbed the name "Acoustic
Vaudeville" for their tour, it would be a great moniker for the lineup that
visited Iota on Thursday night.
First up: the soft-spoken San Francisco band Vetiver. Beginning as a trio,
violinist Jim Gaylord, cellist Alissa Anderson and guitarist-vocalist Andy
Cabic were soon joined by a local friend, Kevin Barker of Aden, whose guitar
fills were a welcome addition. A straight-faced delivery of Randy Newman's
"Burn On" notwithstanding, the group came off as hermetic, the members'
attitudes suggesting they weren't all that comfortable with being heard and
the tunings sometimes at battle with each other. But the songs had a
hypnotic grace that made what they were driving at sometimes more satisfying
than what they actually accomplished.
The hush was broken by Joanna Newsom, who stood in front of her concert-size
harp and bellowed an incantation in a voice that sounded like Shirley Temple
on a bender. When she took to the harp, flailing and wailing, what could
have been affectation revealed itself as genius: her rhythms precisely
rendered by fingers on strings and meticulous enunciations, her riffs
catchy, her lyrics deeply poetic.
The star attraction, critics' darling Devendra Banhart, likewise grabbed
hold of the crowd with what he announced would be "a series of very short
songs" comprising very odd lyrics ("Your eyelash is an island"), vocal
trills not heard since Tiny Tim and steady, ambling guitar figures built on
Piedmont blues, raga and God knows what. Cabic joined him for some guitar
duets -- and as accompanist when Banhart elected to fling his guitar over
his shoulder, stand on his chair and roar. Various artists joined him for
the grand finale, the shamelessly catchy "Shame." If you saw this crowd
busking at Dupont Circle, you'd sure want to give them more than a buck.
--Pamela Murray Winters