Nostalgic for Nostalgia

By Sarrah WolfeDecember 12, 2023

Nostalgic for Nostalgia
DEVENDRA BANHART with HAYDEN PEDIGO, The Belasco, Los Angeles, December 7, 2023.

There are some thoughts that do well to be said aloud and others that fare better inside someone’s head, and I’m personally glad that Devendra Banhart doesn’t know the difference. 

“Nothing makes me more nostalgic for nostalgia than line dancing.”

“Mellotron pays us to show you their gear breaks. It’s kind of a reverse psychology.” 

“You know, I was thinking I’ve never thought about a pool of livers, you know, like Liverpool?” 

Such witticisms and quips were generously sprinkled throughout the former freak folk icon’s set last Thursday night at the Belasco theater in Downtown Los Angeles. On tour to promote his latest album, Flying Wig, Banhart shuffled through personas, voices, and languages with the freedom of a child unleashed on a playground. He sang with his hands as much as his voice and leapt around with an unrestraint and impulsivity that I had to admire. I got the sense that this man had never once in his life second-guessed himself. 

For many an eccentric artist, this blissfully unconcerned attitude might easily be mistaken for arrogance (see Matty Healy). So, what was it that made Banhart’s devil-may-care disposition so captivating? His self-assuredness stood in stark contrast to the night’s opening act, Hayden Pedigo, a soft-spoken, lone instrumental guitarist from Amarillo, Texas, who, after forgetting his capo and having to restart one of his songs, admitted to suffering from severe stage fright. “You know, by talking about stage fright, it makes him, to me, the most confident person I’ve ever seen play,” remarked Banhart.  

And it wasn’t just through expressions of love and admiration that Banhart uplifted others involved in the night’s show. Banhart took the backseat on a cover of Madonna’s “Don’t Tell Me” to share the spotlight with synth player Sofia Arreguin. He worked into his set “Milk for Flowers” by his guitarist Huw Evans’s solo project, H. Hawkline. Despite this being the Flying Wig tour, he didn’t seem all that concerned with promoting it.

I hate getting all peace and love man just as much as anyone else who has contributed to the surplus of copies of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test at their local used bookstore, but I have to contend that what makes Devendra Banhart so charming is a genuine humanistic spirit and wit. Although he’s since replaced the long locks of his neo-hippie days in favor of sprezzatura, he’s clearly held on to some of the spiritual sentiments: “We turn to each other. We turn to our hearts. Everything else is pretty fucked up. That’s it.” I can’t say he’s wrong.

Banhart closed out the night with a dance-filled encore, but not without channeling a spirit of music past. Following the disco-inspired “Fig and Leather,” he announced, “I feel pretty dumb. I need to ask for some wisdom. And it’s the one wise thing I do … So tonight, we’ll ask for some wisdom from Aaliyah in the form of a cumbia.” Breaking out into a cover of “Try Again” followed by his own beloved “Carmensita,” Devendra Banhart’s childlike sensibilities moved us all into carefree bliss as we danced along.


Photo by contributor.

LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.

LARB Contributor

Sarrah Wolfe is a California native who’s just figuring it out as she goes. She holds a BA in film and is pursuing an MA in English literature at California State University, Long Beach. She is currently co-executive editor of her graduate program’s journal, Watermark.


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