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January 22nd, 2003 WWeek Music Staff | Music Stories
 

music & nightlife

     
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PREVIEW
Devendra = Doom
Devendra Banhart's disorderly thoughts about fate, beauty and horror.

The voice is gentle, fine china-fragile and sweetly naive. The guitar rarely rises above whispery folk lament. But there is Evil here.

Devendra Banhart, a 21-year-old with a life story as strange and portentous as his name, grew up all over the world (Venezuela, Paris, San Francisco). By his own account, he rarely has a real place to live, and usually scrapes by washing dishes and busking. His first album, released last fall, is called Oh Me Oh My...The Way the Day Goes by the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Dreaming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit.

This mouthful (a title not unlike ridiculous/sublime names bestowed on equally unlikely works by "outsider artists" like Harvey Darger and James Hampton) sounds like it was recorded in a cave lined with tin, on World War I equipment. While his lyrics tend to be elliptical and apparently benign, Banhart sings with shivery unease--he knows exactly what he's singing about, and it's not pretty.

In these songs, where pale horses lick the skins of "nice people" sporting "white-ass suits" and "lion tattoos," the mundane is tangled in mystery. Everyday life is reconfigured as a scary shadowland of bereavement. Misplaced gloves and earrings signify more mortal losses, while the natural world transmits quiet and ominous signals regarding human fate. Lust is communicated with an edge of animosity. Banhart turns ordinary objects and events into clues to doom; it's his special little sleight of hand. In this, and in the dusty simplicity of his guitar playing, young Devendra recalls Robert Johnson and Hank Williams.

Banhart is coming to Portland for the first time, and a word about the show: It's at a house. The people who live there (a bunch of musicians, or "Portland's most eligible bachelors," according to some) plan to create a quiet, intimate, candlelit atmosphere. If you're looking for a grisly beer bash, go somewhere else. If, on the other hand, you're looking for some of the most uncommon and unsettling songs around, Devendra's your man and this is the place. (Zach Dundas)

Devendra Banhart plays Thursday, Jan. 23, at "The Birdnest," 1536 SE 32nd Place, (360) 791-3889. Entrance, Arrington de Dionyso and Faun Fables also perform. 9 pm. $5. All ages.

MUSIC NEWS and OPINION
HISS and VINEGAR

 

DNA DATA LEADS TO DECADE-OVERDUE BUST IN ZAPATA KILLING
Those who have followed the long-stalled story of Mia Zapata's murder may have greeted last week's news that a suspect has finally been charged in the 1993 killing with something like relief. The decade-old rape and murder of the Gits' singer in Seattle's Central District has been a lingering nightmare for the Northwest music scene, deprived at a stroke of one of its most talented members and of its sense of youthful inviolability. Acting on DNA evidence, Seattle police charged a Cuban-American fisherman and drifter named Jesus Mexquia with the crime last week. Mexquia, who reportedly has a history of violence against women, was in custody on other charges in Miami, Fla. He apparently lived in Seattle only briefly and never before surfaced as a suspect in the Zapata case.

Nearly 10 years on, it's hard to overstate the effect Zapata's death had on the region's music scene at the time. The Gits, though never blessed/cursed by the fame attracted by many Seattle acts of the time, were simply one of the most viscerally powerful bands of the day. Most of their sheer force owed to Zapata's husky wail, an inspiring clarion call in an underground rock world that was as male-dominated then as it is now. Her killing sparked a wave of benefit shows, at least one tribute album and an investigative fund (long exhausted) created by some of the biggest names in Northwest music. In the wake of her death, female-fronted bands on the punk circuit started emphasizing self-defense skills and feminist consciousness. Many in the Seattle scene were sharply critical of the police investigation of the case, and indeed, news reports of Mezquia's arrest highlight instances when Seattle cops kept information about the assault from the public, even denying the existence of DNA evidence.

Investigators now responsible for the Zapata case characterize Mezquia as an icy predator. "The room drops about 10 degrees when he's in it," a prosecutor told the Seattle Times. The suspect is fighting extradition to Washington.

The Gits' albums, including Frenching the Bully, Kings & Queens and Seafish Louisville, remain in print. Check them out.

HAPPIER NEWS (EVEN OUR SCREW-UP)

The ethereally majestic Wow & Flutter is set to release a new album, Names, on Portland's Jealous Butcher Records. The disc hits the streets with a show on Feb. 1 at the recently inaugurated all-ages venue The New Space (1632 SE 10th Ave.)...Orchestral Portland experimentalists the Swords Project, who seem to have pulled off the rare trick of being better-known beyond PDX than within, just signed to the clever Brooklyn indie Arena Rock. The label's also home to Calla and Creeper Lagoon...We bungled last week in our music listings. We should have said that Jenni Nissila now plays drums for the local rock act Sugar Free.

Tip us out, yo: hiss@wweek.com.

 
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