On this night, Colorado native Gregory Alan Isakov played the role of conquering hero -- stepping out onto the massive Fillmore Auditorium stage and looking pleased at the sea of people flooding through the doors early to catch a glimpse of this songwriter on the rise.
Isakov, always inventive with his instrumentation, unveiled a slightly different lineup this time around. The usual cello and violin were present, played by Phillip Parker and Jeb Bows, respectively, but electric guitar and keyboard were added to the mix, creating a more urgent underbelly amid Isakov's sometimes sparse and fragile music. Notably absent was drummer Jen Gilleran, whose playful shuffle plays a large part in Isakov's structures. Gilleran is currently in Costa Rica but will be back in the States in March and will rejoin Isakov on his upcoming West Coast dates. Because of the lack of percussion, Isakov played with structure on a few songs, including "This Empty Northern Hemisphere," which he slowed down, allowing the tempo to bend at times, creating a more intimate atmosphere and allowing his voice to crescendo above his usual range.
Mariachi El Bronx brought its charros back to Denver for only the second time, flying them out the day of the show to help DeVotchKa celebrate the release of its latest album, 100 Lovers, and the birth of their frontman, Matt Caughthran, who turned 32. Caughthran, who smiled widely and was jovial with the crowd, led the six-piece, punk-infused mariachi masters through cuts off their 2009 self-titled album. For the second time in a row, the band declined to play "Sleepwalking," the standout song on the album. Caughthran, recognizing that it was close to Valentine's Day, dedicated the song "Litigation" to "all the ladies in the house" before going on to say, "You are all very confusing!" Playing mariachi music to thousands of people is a far cry from traditional Bronx shows, like the one at the Larimer Lounge, where Caughthran rode his motorcycle on stage, but Mariachi El Bronx is an amazing band with poignant and well-written songs free of the gimmick and hyperbole their stage costumes may suggest.
DeVotchKa represents a band that is capable of putting on not just a rock-and-roll show -- but a full-blown spectacle. Before the show, a juggler performed a series of complicated feats in a far corner of the Fillmore, while a giant...papier-mache type...thing on stilts stalked the crowd. It's very hard to describe accurately. The band started the spectacle on stage with the first song on its forthcoming album, "The Alley." Bassist Jeanie Schroder slowly plucked her stand-up bass while frontman Nick Urata sang morosely behind a wash of echo chamber. The band then channeled its inner Bohemian, busting into the gypsy-inspired "Head Honcho," causing the capacity crowd to bounce excitedly to the waltzy-tuba inspired rhythm. The spectacle became even more stimulating as two Cirque de Ole-inspired acrobats propelled themselves above the stage performing death-defying stunts while the band played. The members of DeVotchKa are all insanely talented: Schroder switched back and forth from stand-up bass to sousaphone, Tom Hagerman from accordion to violin, and even drummer Shawn King left the drum throne at one point to play trumpet.
After the band ended its set, it returned for a three-song encore, ending with "You Love Me," a song made famous by the movie Little Miss Sunshine. DeVotchKa treated the crowd to a spectacle few bands could pull off, proving the secrets to such an event are talent, amazing songwriting and a couple of freaks.
Critic's Notebook: Personal Bias: The Bronx and Mariachi El Bronx show at the Bluebird was my favorite show of last year.
Random Detail: Matt Caughthran wore skate shoes with his charro. Classy. By The Way: Packaging on 100 Lovers is very creative and comes with Chapstick!
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Full DeVotchKa setlist on next page... DeVotchKa setlist from February 12, 2011 at the Fillmore: THE ALLEY HEAD HONCHO QUEEN OF THE SURFACE STREETS POLAND EXHAUSTIBLE THE CLOCKWISE WITNESS BASSO PROFUNDO WE'RE LEAVIN THE MAN FROM SANS SEBASTIAN HOW IT ENDS ALL THE SAND IN ALL THE SEA I CRIED LIKE A SILLY BOY 100 LOVERS CONTRABANDA VENGO! VENGO! MEXICAN
************************* (NEIL YOUNG song) RANCHERO YOU LOVE ME