The crowd was hanging on to Nick Urata's every word -- but this isn't new territory for DeVotchKa fans. The opening of their first song of the night, "The Alley," began with a descending sweep from the string section, moving into Urata's striking, passionate croons. As the first, and arguably, the most exquisite song off of the band's most recent album, 100 Lovers, it set the tone for the rest of the show, dazzling fans whose gazes were locked devotedly on the stage.
"Clockwise Witness," a song off of 2008's A Mad and Faithful Telling, opened with a mechanical, back-and-forth shift between plucked strings and drums and bass. Urata's vocals moved from sweet and clear to a vulnerable plea, and everywhere in between. If there is one song that deserves the shared attention of the band and symphony, it's this one -- yet somehow, the songs keep coming, and the idea that you could say that about each and every song starts to settle.
"Comrade Z," another shining song of the set, is another example of how the orchestra has the ability to deepen and enhance the already stellar and well-built instrumentation of the original track. It was the first chance the audience had to hear the full force of more than sixty musicians -- and the result was vast, booming. This combination, in union with the acoustics that Red Rocks is known for, coupled with the incredible experience of being on a mountain listening to a symphony, was an absolute dream.
There's something about the presence of a symphony that suggests formality -- and DeVotchKa fans have rarely had to be formal at any of their other shows. Understandably, people didn't rise and fill the aisles at the show at Boettcher Concert Hall in February -- but at this point in the show at Red Rocks, people started to compromise their desire to move with the old-world beauty of what was going on below -- and fans started to dance. Not everyone, not even more than a handful of people throughout the venue, in the crowd or flanking the aisles, but when a few brave souls started the movement, more and more people opened up to the possibilities of such an unusual concert setting.
In "All the Sand in all the Sea," the whole band shined. Tom Hagerman was masterful on the keys, and Shawn King played a quick-paced percussive beat. Jeanie Schroder moved from her tuba to the upright bass, and Urata's vocals were supremely melancholy, bordering on the edge of painful.
On the instrumental ballad "Firetrucks on the Boardwalk," Hagerman broke out the accordion, Schroder played a mournful tuba solo, and once again the string section shined for a song that can only be described as the soundtrack to a saga of epic proportions. On "We're Leaving," Urata introduced a mariachi section that breathed life into an already vibrant track.
The audience swooned over "You Love Me," a favorite track off of 2004's How It Ends -- but after a spirited "Enemy Guns," fans were elated to hear the first few notes of "How It Ends" for the encore of what has been an incredibly content rich show for the senses -- the perfect conclusion for such a successful collaboration.
Keep reading for more on Airborne Toxic Event's set, as well as Setlists and Critic's Notebook.