DeVotchKa at First Avenue, 4/1/11
The sold-out crowd that showed up for Denver gypsy-rock stalwarts DeVotchKa's latest Minneapolis concert were more than enthusiastic in their appreciation. They were unafraid to show the band they'd waited for them like a smitten lover since they last breezed through town a few years back. And the band gave them plenty of reason to be appreciative, running through a set of both fan favorites and new material that seemingly satisfied everyone in attendance.
If only from the film scores to which the band has contributed, it's apparent there's a theatrical streak that runs deeply in the group, but the results in a live setting weren't ostentatious--it's more vaudeville than summer blockbuster. Screens flashed images of flying birds and falling snow as the band took to the stage one by one to the opening strains of "The Alley," lead-off track from their new album, 100 Lovers . Frontman Nick Urata took the stage last, dressed in a sharp red military jacket coupled with giant caterpillar eyebrows, and wasted no time in fully opening up his voice, his quavering vocals eliciting riotous cheers.
The group has always had a toe (or a whole foot, rather) in world music, especially Balkan, Romani, and Spanish styles, but this is not the rowdy party music of a band like Gogol Bordello or Balkan Beat Box--DeVotchKa is for lovers. Urata's gusty vibrato has always been his greatest weapon, deploying it liberally across the set and adding a bittersweet sexuality to the slower burning numbers. While their leader was busy wooing the crowd, the rest of the band showed off their technical skill, switching instruments in between almost every song and adding in keyboards, trumpet, accordion, and a massive sousaphone strung with red Christmas lights. The result was a rich, limber sound, changing accents as the songs demanded.
Even with a catalog-spanning set, the best moments came from the crowd's reaction to DeVotchKa's theatrics. Clubwide call-and-response sessions and singalongs tapped into the audience's eagerness to participate, though outright dancing was sadly minimal, relegated mostly to the silhouettes on the stage's screens. A showstopping aerial dance routine during "Poland" was a definite highlight, and instead of coming off as a showy gimmick, it hearkened back to the band's previous life as a backing band for burlesque goddess Dita Von Teese. The combo of titillating physicality and the band's strutting was a natural fit and provided a bit of a giddy thrill in the middle of the show, when most bands struggle to find their momentum.
But momentum didn't prove to be a problem for Urata's crew, and they gave a crowd full of obvious fans exactly what they wanted. It might not be until the group releases another album, but those fans will be waiting patiently for their Russian lovers to return.
Personal bias: Not a huge fan of the Balkan sound, but I enjoy DeVotchka's other influences and attitude.
The crowd: Mostly mid-30s and up, older but enthusiastic and dressed in lots of flannel.
Overhead in the crowd: "Oh my god. Here comes the accordion."
Random notebook dump: Two people asked me what the name of the band was during a sold-out show. Odd.
Queen of Surface Streets
The Clockwise Witness
The Man from San Sebastian
All the Sand in All the Sea
How It Ends
I Cried Like a Silly Boy
100 Other Lovers
Only Love Can Break Your Heart (Neil Young cover)
You Love Me
Such A Lovely Thing
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