Words by: Eamon Foley
DeVotchka :: 07.24.07 :: Spiegeltent :: New York, NY
Having started their days touring with a burlesque troupe, DeVotchka recently came full circle to New York, playing the celebrated Spiegeltent. Host to a variety of bands, as well as two zany circus spectacles, the Spiegelworld arena provided an intimate, atmospheric venue for the multi-instrumental DeVotchka.
| Urata & Schroder :: DeVotchka|
Their sound is a distinct mix of styles - Eastern European traditional folk tinged with mariachi, jazz and rock. Their live performance landed somewhere between rowdy street musicians and an orchestra. While the gypsy sound may lead to comparisons to Gogol Bordello, in contrast to Gogol's craziness, the suited and booted DeVotchka echo the style and class of the swing era. Singer Nick Urata is reminiscent of a modern day Frank Sinatra with the voice of a Nick Cave-Thom Yorke crossbreed.
The band members switched instruments with ease, offering contrasting sounds that came together nicely. Jeannie Schroder provided a bouncy rhythm for the band, swapping between double bass and a sousaphone adorned with red fairy lights. At times, the heavy hitting of percussionist Shawn King offset the soft ache of the band's string section. During other songs he provided subtle, Portishead-like 'rat-a-tat-tat' drum rolls that melded well with plucked violin strings and Urata's haunting lyrics. Later, for his encore solo, King pulled out a trumpet from behind his drum kit.
Despite their lyrics revolving around sorrow and death, there's an air of romanticism to DeVotchka. Urata twists his words so they sound like a foreign language, adding a certain mystery. The band's romanticism was enhanced by contrasts. The screech and wobble of the violins played off the accordion, while the haunting cello contrasted with the boom of the double bass and, on occasion, a steel drum. Yet, despite this sophisticated blend of instruments, there was a definite party feel. The small carnival tent, with its circus hues and absinthe-colored lights, added to the show's intimacy. In the small confines everyone had a good view, even from the colorful, kitschy booths that circled the stage.
The string section, which featured three violins and a cello, added a depth to Urata's vocals, which, at times, veered with stretched notes towards the operatic. However, before they were in danger of taking themselves too seriously, they returned to their kitschy burlesque roots and pulled out the maracas. Later, they added a dub reggae jam, leading the crowd in a chorus of "Yo yo yo's." This mix of styles probably shouldn't work but it does, coming together in a heady mix that sounded original even though their influences are obvious.
| Nick Urata :: DeVotchka|
During their encore, a dancer from one of the circus acts joined the band. Dressed in a sequin-studded leotard, she sparkled overhead as she climbed and plunged from the ceiling at the center of the tent. Her tiny frame showed great strength while hauling herself around, another contrast in a night full of them. All the while, DeVotchka matched her moves, setting a steady pace as she posed and manipulated the ropes, building the tension with a drum and guitar frenzy as she set herself up, feet entwined in rope, until she plunged head first to within feet of the ground. And with that they were gone.
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