DeVotchKa has always been something of an enigma within the indie music world. There is certainly a group within this sector that adores this brand of indie cabaret/gypsy folk, but DeVotchKa are almost outsiders to this adoration. Their music isn’t considered quite as hip as Beirut, they don’t delve as deep into the gypsy music attitude as A Hawk and A Hacksaw, and they certainly don’t go balls to the wall with energy like Gogol Bordello. DeVotchKa, instead, take a simpler, more melodic approach, that some find slow, but in reality, it’s quite palatable. Without ranking the ability of all the aforementioned acts, it should be said that DeVotchKa absolutely deserve a more solidified spot within that indie cabaret niche. And who knows? The group’s latest effort – this week’s 100 Lovers – might be the one to do it.
The ruggedly handsome Nick Urata took the stage with his George Clooney-esque swagger, wearing a Brooklyn Vegan shirt. He was followed by the three other members of DeVotchKa to perform the ethereal opening track from 100 Lovers, “The Alley”. After breaking the ice with that song followed by a few older hits, Urata acknowledged that this was something of a special night for them, as it marked both the beginning of a lengthy tour and the album’s release date. He thanked the crowd for joining them for such a big occasion and went on with the set.
However, since this was the first time many of these songs had been performed in a live setting, there were minor hiccups throughout the night. A missed cue here, tuning issues there, it sort of became apparent that this was a whole new beast for a long tenured band. The night seemed plagued by sound level issues and monitor feedback. Perhaps most apparent, though, was the light/visual show that has been absent in their previous tours. For this tour, the band opted to use a series of projectors to convey images onto three large screens. This would have been effective…had it worked right. The lighting on the stage was so bright that the images on the screens were nearly impossible to see at times, and the live video feed that was put up on one of the screens lagged by about a second and a half. This isn’t the band’s fault, though.
In fact, the minor flubs here and there actually proved to be the show’s greatest success, as it made the show more intimate. Nothing is worse than seeing a band that is so used to the ins and outs of touring life that it’s apparent that this is only work to them. Their sound might be tight, but their heads aren’t in it. DeVotchKa was far from guilty of this. They ran through their set, avoiding hurdles left and right, and proved what truly great musicians they are.
Unsurprisingly, their set was full of new tracks, and the songs were cleaner than their old material. The decor matched this ideal, and they ditched the old rustic look for one that is more modern, more the speed of their career at present. And while it was sad to not have the World War I style amps and monitors and guitars with holes strummed through the body, it was a completely new dynamic for the band, a more refined look for them that matches their new sound and does well to incorporate their old sound.
It’s unbelievable how Urata hits those high notes, but it’s the cherry on top of a very alluring sundae. The multi-instrumentalism coming from the members of DeVotchKa is second to none. Between guitars, bass guitar, upright bass, sousaphone, theremin, bouzouki, piano, violin, accordion, drums, percussion, trumpet, and flute, these four individuals know their music. As impressive as their musicianship is just their overall knack for songwriting that gets a crowd to move. Obviously “How It Ends” was a fan favorite, but “The Clockwise Witness”, “Basso Profundo”, all-new rock jam “The Man From San Sebastian”, and a 10 minute rendition of “Such A Lovely Thing” brought the crowd together for gypsy dances they didn’t know they could do.
As they came back out for an encore, they did an accordion/acoustic guitar rendition of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart” that turned a few heads and hushed the lively crowd. By the end of the night, everyone in attendance was eating from the palms of this band’s hands.
And as the night came to a close, a young concert-goer nearby summed it up pretty well: “DeVotchKa’s just one of those bands you’ll never quite understand until you see ’em live.” Too true, young lad. But let’s take it a step further, though. DeVotchKa is certainly a band you’ll never understand until you see them live, but more importantly, they’re a band that you can’t not watch once they take the stage. There seem to be too few of those acts these days, and DeVotchKa should be cherished for possessing this trait.
Queen of the Surface Streets
The Clockwise Witness
The Man From San Sebastian
Venus In Furs (Velvet Underground cover)
How It Ends
All The Sand In All The Sea
I Cried Like A Silly Boy
100 Other Lovers
The Enemy Guns
Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Neil Young cover)
Such A Lovely Thing
You Love Me