PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Reviews

DeVotchka

Wilson McBee

The stage is aglow with red lighting, and DeVotchka’s four-member core, dressed as if for the funeral of a 19th-century vaudevillian, enters accompanied by loudspeakers playing a classical waltz and a scantily clad circus-type dancer who tosses rose petals into the crowd.

DeVotchka

DeVotchka

City: Washington, DC
Venue: 930 Club
Date: 2008-05-16

Too many indie rockers seem out of place on an elegant, well-lit stage. Studio brilliance hardly predicts in-the-flesh luminosity: often I watch some pale-faced nerds tremble onto the stage with their instruments at the start of a show, and I immediately wish we were back in their parents’ basement or the dingy dive where they got their start. DeVotchka arouses no such feelings; this is a group tailor-made for the 930 Club’s 1,200-person, intimate-yet-grand venue. The stage is aglow with red lighting, and DeVotchka’s four-member core, dressed as if for the funeral of a 19th-century vaudevillian, enters accompanied by loudspeakers playing a classical waltz and a scantily clad circus-type dancer who tosses rose petals into the crowd. Pronounced showmanship is a breath of fresh air in this authenticity-obsessed era, and DeVotchka’s burlesque history (they used to tour with fetish model Dita von Teese) in addition to their gypsy-folk-meets-punk-rock tunes have created a burgeoning reputation, to say nothing of the band’s quirky biographies: leader Nick Urata is of Gypsy ancestry, drummer/trumpeter Shawn King is the son of Polka musicians, tuba-player/bassist Jeanie Schroder has a background playing Civil War reenactments, and Tom Hagerman, the normal one, is a classically trained violinist who also plays accordion and piano. Although DeVotchka had released four albums by the time the band was pegged to score 2006’s surprise blockbuster Little Miss Sunshine, that film’s success brought a whole new audience. This year’s fantastic A Mad & Faithful Telling has been received with the gushing excitement usually reserved for a stellar debut. A packed house of district citizens in addition to NPR producers (the entire show can be streamed here) were on hand to witness the scene. Opener “Head Honcho”, led by Urata’s staccato acoustic strumming and Hagerman’s silky accordion runs, featured a concert-appropriate first line: “We’re going to hit ’em, hit ’em where it hurts.” Urata’s vocal work, which always seemed to me to evoke a lovechild between Jeff Buckley and a Carpathian peasant, was eerily stirring in its hoarse edges and bilingual rhapsody. DeVotchka began the show as a quartet, and the reduced arrangements highlighted the band’s punkish, jagged side; Hagerman’s solo violin seared and tremoloed with the testimony of someone who’s thrown his academic training out the window and into the raging streets of rock and roll. On a rollicking digression from “Basso Profundo”, Urata and Schroder enacted a theremin-tuba duel that sounded like a mouse chasing an elephant. A string trio -- two additional violinists and a cellist -- occasionally augmented DeVotchka’s core of multi-instrumentalists, and a guest trumpeter also dropped by for a few songs. The “DeVotchka strings,” as Urata referred to the players, were a welcome addition. Bringing out the lusher orchestration upped the band’s melodramatic tendencies, and that was certainly appreciated on wondrous ballads like “The Clockwork Witness” and “Transliterator”. With a bevy of instrumental intricacies and well-hewed, tradition-twisting song structures, Urata and company proved to be masterful sustainers of audience attention, but the lock-tight orchestration of the thing almost had the dimensionality of celluloid. It is hardly surprising that DeVotchka grew famous by backing up a leathery strip show and scoring Abigail Breslin’s big-eyed cuteness, considering that the most memorable moment of the night came when the band ceded the spotlight to an aerial-curtain contortionist. At the start of “C’Esta Cela” from Una Volta, a long silky curtain dropped from the topmost batten to the floor in front of the stage, and, led by an agent unable to be seen from the back of the room, began to dance to the song’s twittering, accordion- and theremin-fed psycho-polka. Here I migrated to the 930’s balcony to get a better look at what was shaking the curtain, and by the time I regained my view, the same petal-tosser from the start of the show was ascending the curtain to the crowd’s rapturous applause. For the rest of “C’est Ce La” and the instrumental jam that followed, the aloft acrobat flipped and turned in sync to the music in a performance that, if not death-defying, at least risked a few broken limbs -- not something you see every day. By ripping a page from Cirque du Soleil’s playbook and constantly varying their instrumentation, DeVotchka demonstrated that they are more than the sum of their disparate influences. Current rock could definitely benefit from a revival of the kind of theatricality introduced by Alice Cooper and Meat Loaf. DeVotchka’s frame of reference may be more Eastern European vagabondage than West-Coast shock-rock, and while the group only offered a glimpse of their festive tastes here, a broader embrace of theater -- as in, say, incorporating a fuller smorgasbord of weirdness in more circus acts, the return of Dita von Teese, maybe even dramatic interludes and film clips -- could elevate their musical appearances from fascinating sideshows to must-see spectacles.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.