Saturday, December 11, 2010

'16th And Valencia Roxy Music' (Devendra Banhart)

"Riding six white horses/Wearing pressed blue jeans/Gonna behead the king/And give the queen everything/Cause tonight, we're gonna find our lover/Tonight, we're gonna find our man/We don't know where to go (We know where to go)/We don't know what to do (we know what to do)...I know I look high/But I'm just freak dancing/ I know I look hypnotized/But I'm just table-tapping/Cause tonight, we ain't gonna find our lover/Tonight, we ain't gonna find our man..."
The intersect of 16th and Valencia Streets in SF's Mission District has been jumping for far longer than I've lived here, perhaps even beyond that. The 16th Street end claims blocks comprising such watering holes as Delirium which, in its late 80's/early 90's life as The Albion, harbored a lively microscene of local performance artists and folk-tinted rockers within its backroom. Poetry performances still occasionally take place in adjacent bars like Dalva and Gestalt, and even joints like sidewalk luncheon spot Ti Couz.
Another venerable attraction is the comfortably musty Adobe Books, once host to an art project formed by organizing the shop's collected stock by the colors on their spines. And while Dr. Bombay's (infamous for its Pixie Piss house specialty) has departed the 'hood, the Roxie Theater - the City's premier repertory showcase - still packs in discerning movie fans and psychotronic trash hounds alike.
Meanwhile, the perpendicular Valencia side is somewhat tamer than it was in the days when the legendary Deaf Club punk dive rocked the block. Geegaw gifteries and boutiques better suited to a Melrose crowd have crept in, neighbored by older, more budget-conscious mainstays like the Muddy Waters Coffeehouse and longtime taqueria fave La Cumbre. Much like the daily stew of Latinos and Anglos, working class and loft dwellers, crackheads and greedheads that flows along its sidewalks, the businesses here maintain and reflect a sort of resigned coexistence.
I have yet to spot Devendra Banhart strolling 16th and Valencia, although I have seen him all the way across town and closer to GG Park, wandering amidst the Asian markets and dim sum houses found on Clement Street (as well as one of the City's best printed-word dealers, Green Apple Books), sometimes in the company of minstrel pal and Avenues resident Andy Cabic from the group Vetiver.
Banhart is very much a polarizing artist, and I can understand aspects of why people both like and loathe him and his music. The positive, neohippie outlook of his personality - as expressed in interviews and in performance - can be as offputting as the enthusiasm and restlessness with which he embraces a wide spectrum of musical influence is exciting and attractive.
Yet if one is open to it, there are gems scattered amongst Banhart's output thus far, of which '16th And Valencia Roxy Music' - from his 2009 major label debut What Will We Be - is a personal favorite.
For all the 'freak-folk', Old Weird arcane agrarian hoohah that's been kicked up in Banhart's wake, this song was a genuine surprise. A chugging, honest-to-goodness Pop Song, it fizzes in the way a properly constructed and executed, contemporary pop/rock nugget should. Banhart's feline purr, so often compared to Marc Bolan, for once does that comparison justice within this brightly shaded setting.
And if the cutesy, locally colored pun perhaps adds to the ammo of Banhart deriders, it's actually appropriate, given that the song inverts the scenario found on Ferry and cohorts' classic 'Love Is The Drug'.
For instead of charting the successful catching of that love buzz, this song's hero may start off optimistic about the potential pleasures of the Mission, but in Banhart's twist, ends up in that all too common date-night state: dissipated and empty-pocketed, with testicles the color of robin's eggs.

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