DEVOTCHKA at GOTHIC THEATRE | 10/31/12 Nick Urata was quite engaging throughout last night's show, but one of the most compelling moments came when he introduced a song as one written by one of the band's heroes. The tune wasn't immediately recognizable, as the band had expertly reworked the song to make it its own, but when Urata sang about "Shiny boots of leather," it became apparent that the group was performing "Venus in Furs," a track written by the recently departed Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground.
As a pair of acrobatic dancers hovered above the stage, Urata and company didn't try to do a faithful cover, but instead it did its best to capture the theatrical sense the original song always had, and the dark undertones of this version, which appears on Curse Your Little Heart, DeVotchKa's 2006 album, had some of the lilting melodic sensibilities that inform the band's own music. It was a great balance of respectful tribute and individual expression.
For this show, the whole band got donned various costumes: Urata wore stylized Day of the Dead facepaint, as did the rest of the band and the guest musicians on horns and guitar. A backdrop of Russian, Eastern Orthodox, minarets against a pale sky served as a suitable screen for the richly colored projections that also merged well with the fog colored by stage lighting. It gave the whole show a sense of the otherworldly.
Drawing from a broad spectrum of material from throughout the band's career, DeVotchKa played tracks at least as far back as 2003's Una Volta with "Queen of the Serpent Streets" and the lively and inspired sarcasm of "Commerce City Sister," during which one of the aerial dancers used a net as the prop and support, performing seemingly death-defying stunts with grace and ease.
Schroder's bass, as played through the sousaphone in "Basso Profundo," appropriately enough, had a rapid yet fluid flow, almost as though it would have to have been generated electronically, yet it also sounded too organic for that, and that was impressive to see. Hagerman was a wizard on the violin. His masterful playing gave the music much of its ability to fly to great emotional heights.
As did Urata's truly musical singing: His voice isn't merely a vehicle for the lyrics, but rather, it's an integral part of the soundscape, linking in with all the other sounds. Shawn King's percussion playing wasn't overt, but listening carefully, it was obvious that the dynamics and rhythmic accents were a testament to his subtlety and a keen instinct for layered dynamics.
The Jeff Buckley via Mogwai-esque "All The Sand In All The Sea" and main set closer "The Clockwise Witness" showcased how this band could branch well beyond the sound for which it is most well known, with Urata changing his singing style from his masterful warble and vibrato to something less textured but even more richly melodic. It was an imaginative mix of evocative sounds and dynamics that came across more like a daring and experimental pop band than the dark, gypsy, jazz-inflected Americana that the band is often associated with.
Of all the older tracks, the beautifully doleful "How It Ends" stood out the strongest. It was a mini epic that transported us through shifting moods, from melancholy to inspired to accepting and finally to a sense of transcendence. It's one of those songs that we've have heard many times, but this time around, it just seemed especially powerful and affecting. It's easy to take a local band for granted and check out of that band for a long time but this set list was proof that DeVotchKa hasn't exactly been resting on any laurels.
Personal Bias: I first saw DeVotchKa at the 15th St. Tavern on April 16, 2001, opening for The Bedraggled, one of Reverend Dead Eye's old bands, and I loved them. Nobody much was there. Needless to say, DeVotchKa has done very well for itself since then, going through some major changes while also preserving what made the band interesting from the beginning. Random Observation: DeVotchKa still plays some of the really old songs with the same enthusiasm and passion as its more sophisticated and developed new songs, and while that's what you should do as a band, it is still very much appreciated. By the Way: This show made me reassess what I thought of albums I thought I didn't like. Thanks for the education and update, DeVotchKa.