Devotchka | 01.23.09 | Philly

Words by: Cathy Chapman | Images by: Rod Snyder

Devotchka :: 01.23.09 :: World Café Live :: Philadelphia, PA

Devotchka :: 01.23 :: Philadelphia
Two years ago a friend of mine introduced me to the music of Devotchka and I've been a fan ever since. They are hard to define, but imagine yourself in a smoky, dark bar in Eastern Europe, somewhere where the women wear long, slinky dresses and toss back whiskey while men in dashing suits sit in dark corners burning down cigarette after cigarette. Got it? That's what I picture when listening to their creations – a fascinating mix of sexy, sad, passionate and clever gypsy music with a hardened, theatrical edge blended with world music and rock & roll. With four albums under their belt and the score of Little Miss Sunshine, this band is finally getting the attention they deserve.

I arrived at World Café Live at just about 7:30 p.m., naively expecting the place to still be semi quiet, and was surprised to see large numbers of people streaming in to see Devotchka on their second tour visit here in less than a year. Opener Rachel Goodrich warmed up the attentive crowd, with simple songs on acoustic guitar, ukulele and kazoo.

Devotchka came on quickly afterward, to a cheering audience. They opened with "Head Honcho" off their latest album, A Mad And Faithful Telling. Jeanie Schroder (sousaphone, upright bass) was her usual smiling self, making a lot of eye contact with her audience. She's most amazing when she manages to maintain a smile while playing her enormous instruments.

Their next selection, the instrumental "Poland," opens with a sad violin (courtesy of Tom Hagerman - piano, accordion, violin), and swiftly becomes more up-tempo. Schroder's sousaphone, festooned with blue Christmas light that, when seen from afar resembled a blue glowing orb dancing around, came in and the crowd went wild, clapping and dancing.

One of the more unusual instruments they employ (and one that I would LOVE to try), is a Theremin (what looks like a wooden block with an antenna). Nick Urata (vocals, guitar) moved his hand around it to create a haunting hum that was delicious.

Nick Urata - Devotchka :: 01.23 :: Philadelphia
Devotchka moved through the rest of the set quickly, with Urata pausing only briefly to thank the audience and swig from a bottle of wine. Although at times I felt the band was low on energy - they have a grueling tour schedule - by the end of the set they fully engaged with the crowd, including a sing-along to "Such A Lovely Thing." The encore was when I really noticed the band beginning to loosen up and start to have fun, with Urata crooning his heart out, Schroder bopping along with her glowing blue sousaphone, Hagerman soaring above with his beautiful accordion and drummer Shawn King bashing his kit. Their second to last song of the evening, another instrumental, had the entire audience moving, from the 20-Something students to their grandmothers to the Goth chick in the corner tapping along and the hippie in the suit jacket flailing around near the bar.

They finished the evening with a flourish, playing a Spaghetti Western themed "The Enemy Guns" off How It Ends. It's a sultry, rhythmic song with Urata singing in Spanish and whistling like a Clint Eastwood cowboy movie score while the violin swells above a galloping drumbeat.

Last spring, they played Philly at the TLA and Nick Urata's girlfriend finished the night with an aerial performance, sliding and intertwining lithely down the curtains at the front of the stage. I did miss having that additional piece of theatre, and hopefully next time they'll bring her back.

Devotchka made me feel like I was at a Croatian wedding reception in the French countryside, with punk rock chicks as the maids of honor and 20 caravans of gypsies as guests. Everyone clearly had a great time, and I was so happy to see the band loosen up and give some love back to their Philly fans that obviously adore them. Keep an eye on this band's touring schedule, and make sure you see them next time they come your way.

Devotchka :: 01.23.09 :: World Café Live :: Philadelphia, PA
Head Honcho, Poland, The Clockwise Witness, Queen of the Surface Streets, We're Leaving, Venus In Furs, How It Ends, C'est Ce La, Commerce City Sister, Along The Way, Transliterator, Basso Profundo, I Cried Like A Silly Boy, Ranchero, The Oblivion, Klezbo, Mexican

Devotchka is on tour now; dates available here.

Continue reading for more pics of Devotchka in Philly...


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