DeVotchKa at First Avenue, 2/15/13
Photo by Erik Hess
First Avenue, Minneapolis
February 15, 2013
With warm sentiments from Valentine's Day still lingering in the air on Friday night at First Avenue, DeVotchaKa only built on the emotions leftover from the holiday by delivering a string-laden 90-minute set full of both passion and elegance. The Denver quartet's stylish sound was augmented by a small orchestra composed of Minneapolis musicians, as well as Tom Hagerman and Shawn King themselves, who helped recreate the majesty of many of the tracks featured on DeVotchKa's newest album, Live With the Colorado Symphony, which the band recorded live last year alongside a sprawling 60-piece orchestra.
While the string and horn section was much more modest at First Avenue, going from a four-piece to a seven-piece depending on the song, they really brought a lush sophistication to DeVotchKa's numbers throughout the 17-song performance.
The show did take a moment to truly find a spark, as somewhat tentative versions of "The Alley" and "The Clockwise Witness" eased everyone gracefully into the evening. But after frontman Nick Urata took a moment to soak in the ovation as well as the size of the crowd, he greeted us warmly, "It's good to be back. Thank you for having us." Urata then led the group through an impassioned take on "Along the Way," with the swelling strings only adding to the song's emotional heft. The stage was then bathed in blood-red lighting for a rousing, poignant rendition of "The Common Good," which energized both the band as well as the crowd, and the set just took off from there.
Photos by Erik Hess
"Thank you for coming down to our belated Valentine's Day performance," Urata said a bit mischievously. "You probably want to forget all about that now and just move on, if you're like us." DeVotchKa's songs really do tread that fine line between being heartwarming and heartbreaking, with Urata singing about both love and loneliness with equal acuity. So both the hopeless romantics and the devoted misanthropes can take comfort within their material, as much of it seems to be rooted in the raw emotions generated by both intimacy and loss.
After the bouncy, dynamic instrumental, "Comrade Z," which featured Jeanie Schroder's resonant sousaphone, and a lovely take on "All the Sand In All the Sea," Urata connected with the crowd once again. "Thank you so much for coming out and seeing us on such a cold night. You've warmed our hearts." And with that, the band launched into a delicate, gorgeous version of "Undone" as a hush fell over the awestruck crowd. As the audience roared their appreciation after the stunning number drew to a close, Urata -- in between generous pulls on a bottle of red wine -- made sure to give credit to the mini-orchestra breathing new life into his songs. "How about this section here, huh? We pilfered them from right here in Minneapolis. You should be proud, very proud."
While many previous DeVotchKa shows in town have featured somewhat boisterous crowd singalongs from fans who have obviously been drawn deep into their music, the presence of the strings and the somewhat subdued arrangements kept the audience mostly muted and respectful throughout the performance, allowing the band's rich, sonorous music to ring true within the packed club. Even on the spirited "Queen Of The Surface Streets," the crowd let Urata and the band carry the stirring song mostly by themselves, just quietly mouthing the moving words (which they have clearly taken to heart) to themselves as the dramatic song washed over them.
Photos by Erik Hess
A swinging, Latin-flavored version of "We're Leaving" was buoyed by mariachi-like brass flourishes, and really heated up the set and the appreciative crowd. Urata took note of how the evening was progressing as well. "Thanks again for listening, and for having us back here at First Avenue. It's really starting to feel like a Friday night now." The emphatic, Balkan-tinged pulse of "Contrabanda" kept the strong momentum going, while continuing to showcase the well-rounded world music influence within the band.
Urata then tenderly introduced the next song, "This is kind of a Valentine number, and it's one of the first songs we ever played here, at the Current studios. We have to thank them for sharing and spreading our music in your city." A string-soaked version of "You Love Me" followed, sweeping away both the lovers and the lonely with the majestic passion of the song's penetrating lyrics. The main set then drew to a close with a propulsive, guitar-driven take of "The Enemy Guns" that saw the band off with a well-earned ovation that didn't let up until the encore began.
After a brief break the Slavic Sisters, three aerial-acrobats, came back out with the band, with two of them ascending to a small cube hanging over the crowd while the third dancer hung below them on a long, velvety strand of aerial silk. The three then performed an intricate, interwoven dance routine while hanging over the audience, as the band delivered a lively take on "Curse Your Little Heart," inspired by the fearless, intoxicating moves of the dancers.
Photo by Erik Hess
After the Slavic Sisters took a well-deserved bow on stage, Urata kept the surprises coming during the encore, playfully announcing, "We thought we'd pay tribute to one of your local heroes," before the band launched into an exuberant cover of Prince's "Mountains." The fact that it's not one of the Purple One's biggest hits allowed for the band to make the Parade standout completely their own as most of the crowd tried hard to place exactly what it was. It was definitely a sultry take on the mid-'80s classic, causing Urata to exclaim afterward, "Thank you for letting us indulge in that. It's the man's house, after all!"
After a touching take on "I Cried Like A Silly Boy," Urata gave us one final toast with his wine bottle as the band launched into the familiar strains of "How It Ends." Midway through the swelling number, Urata dramatically turned his microphone around to face the crowd, letting us all sing the deeply affecting lyrics back to him as we all helped bring the song, as well as the night, home.
While the show didn't quite take place on Valentine's Day proper, there were more sincere emotions expressed in this stirring performance than you will find in all the hackneyed Hallmark cards throughout the land. And who really needs a cheap box of chocolates when you have the sweet sounds of DeVotchKa to get you through the night.
Personal Bias: It had been a few years since I've seen DeVotchKa perform, and I was impressed with how the small string orchestra augmented and enhanced their grand sound.
The Crowd: It was a full-house, but most people were there to listen, thankfully.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Now, who wants to go to the Hard Rock Cafe?"-- said after the show by someone who obviously hasn't been to downtown Minneapolis in a while.
Random Notebook Dump: As glorious as this show was, hearing Live With The Colorado Symphony is truly a revelation. I'm quite tempted to head out to Red Rocks to see them perform with the full Colorado Orchestra (and special guest Amanda Palmer) in June.
The Clockwise Witness
Along The Way
The Common Good
All The Sand In All The Sea
Firetrucks On The Boardwalk
Queen Of The Surface Streets
You Love Me
The Enemy Guns
Curse Your Little Heart (Encore)
I Cried Like A Silly Boy (Encore)
How It Ends (Encore)
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