Saturday, July 12, 2008

Show Review: Devotchka @ 930 Club, Washington, DC (5-16-08)

With all the traveling back and forth to NYC as of late coming to a close for a bit (unless I see notice of The Henry Clay People or Radars to the Sky coming to the right coast of course), I'm finally getting back 'round to those posts/interviews from that "lost weekend" that went 31 days in May (grand jury duty). You may say, "Well what's the point now?" But ah my friends, the reasoning comes in my desire to share those things which were pure beauty. One of these things was seeing the Colorado band Devotchka live at the 930 Club on May 8th in support of their new release, A Mad and Faithful Telling.

Music is an interesting thing. Whether instrumental or when teamed with lyrics, it's got this incredible ability at times to touch something so deep inside...the hair stands up on the back of your neck or you get goosebumps, and you physically feel your breath catch when you're listening. That's what seeing Devotchka at the 930 Club was like for 90 straight minutes.

I’ll admit, I didn't really know much of Devotchka's music apart from “Queen of the Surface Streets,” the Little Miss Sunshine soundtrack, and a few tracks via the Hype. But they came highly recommended from some folks whose musical tastes I respect, so I thought what the hell. I fully expected a sold out show, but with the plethora of other shows that night (for example, Los Campesinos! down the street), there was actually room to move around some, and we got quite close to the stage.

Devotchka came out and a small woman in sparkly bathing suit threw roses from the stage. To watch a rock club crowd lose its collective mind over someone playing an accordion was a little surreal-I'd only ever seen this much excitement over an accordion before at Oktoberfests and when the Hungarian side of the family got together when I was a kid--but I must stress how worthy of the adulation it was, Tom Hagerman’s playing was seriously amazing. And it wasn’t just an accordion he rocked. Each of Devotchka’s main musicians plays multiple instruments, and not always those of the same family: Jeanie Schroder plays upright bass AND tuba (yes, I said tuba); Tom Hagerman plays accordion AND violin; Shawn King drums AND trumpet, and lead singer Nick Urata guitar AND saw. How they use these instruments also differs from those one expects to see in a rock band- it’s not a bass guitar keeping the rhythm with the drums, it’s a tuba. Instead of a lead guitar shredding solos, it’s a violin or an accordion. And on top of it all was Urata’s voice; my god, Urata’s voice was probably the loveliest instrument of the group. It made me think of twilight, that time where it’s not quite day and not quite night, and can be sultry and keening, dark and dangerous, heartbreaking and sad, and exciting and fevered, all at once.

As a collective, Devotchka created music that was at times racing and swirling and fast paced with the accordion leading the charge, whipping the crowd up and carrying them along, and other times, what came off that stage was insanely haunting and lush and beautiful. Mere words wouldn't do it justice, but you knew it was something powerful and amazing because you could feel your soul sobbing from the sheer emotion of it all.

On the whole, the audience was loving it, though I did see some filtering out towards the encore. Which made them fools because they missed the encore, and the encore was something you had to see to believe.

From the ceiling’s lighting rigging came a long red silk scarf that went to the floor. A woman appeared, the woman who’d thrown the roses out into the crowd earlier in fact, and she started to climb up the material, stopping some 30 feet up. It’s probably obvious to say that anyone thinking of filtering out stopped dead in their tracks with this. Devotchka started to play, providing an instrumental backdrop to this amazing aerialist’s performance as she literally danced in mid-air, leaving the crowd literally slackjawed in awe and delight.

After her descent, opening act Basia Bulat came out to join the band for a raucous “My Brother’s Blood,” into the ethereal “You Love Me,” which was complemented with amazing mariachi-style horns. Urata and company then waved goodbye to the crowd, swigging from a bottle of red wine, sending the crowd off into the DC night to love and to live and to dream of the foreign lands of which Devotchka sang.

If you haven’t already guessed, Devotchka isn't your everyday group in terms of sounds or instruments. Look up Devotchka in the dictionary and following its first definition of “girl/Origin-Russian,” the second definition is a picture of these guys with the words “a musical and emotional phantasmagoria of multicultural influences.” In this day and age of songs remaining the same, it’s nice to know there’s a band out there who can still give you goosebumps.

(Devotchka is currently out on tour supporting A Mad and Faithful Telling and will be performing at the Monolith Festival in September.)

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