Monday, February 2, 2009


During a show, how much of the greatness is the sound, how much is the performance, how much the set list, and how much the spectacle? Devotchka's show at Webster Hall in the Lower East Side if Manhattan succeeded immeasurably at the latter. The entire concert was one beautiful spectacle after another, much having to do with the venues and the music style in general. Originally starting as a backing band for burlesque shows, Devotchka kept many elements of the strange and quirky opulence that burlesque is known for.

What is DeVotchKa? Are they gypsy punk? General indie rock? Folk? Or random instrument-crazy goodness? Devotchka is named after A Clockwork Orange's nadsat word for girl (it is the same in Russian except for the pronunciation; Burgess pronounces it Deh-VAHtch-kah instead of the Russian DYEH-votchka). There are only four members in the band and more than twelve instruments, running the gamut from the general guitar/piano/drums to accordion, violin, trumpet, double bass, organ, theremin, bouzouki, a sousaphone (which during the show was wrapped in blue twinkle lights). Clearly, this is an extremely talented band, and the members switched between instruments nearly every song. DeVotchKa is indie rock infused with all sorts of international fare, from the Iberian peninsula to the Balkans to France and Italy, giving each individual song its own particular je-ne-sais-quoi. And then, of course, there are the lyrics-- mythical, beautiful, and poetic, each song a story in itself. The Undone lyrics are my personal favorites.

The venue contributed greatly to the show, and emphasized how truly indiosyncratic DeVotchKa is as a band (the only other similar band out there might perhaps be Beirut, if only for the influences). Webster Hall is small and intimate while maintaining a sense of the grandiose, which might have been due to the burlesque quality of everything. Even a deaf mute would have enjoyed it-- it was quite simply a beautiful concert. DeVotchKa incorporated not only a twinkle-light-wrapped sousaphone but also a background of twinkling stars that lit up during certain choruses, as well as one of my favorite parts of the evening: an enormous disco ball!

Then there was something so out of the ordinary for concerts and so characteristically burlesque: a rope dancer! I forget the exact song (probably Vengo! Vengo! off of Una Volta), but at some point a scantily clad dancer/gymnast performed on a red rope that before just seemed to be a makeshift curtain. The crowd (laid back, vaguely artsy twenty-somethings) went wild.

And then there was the set list. DeVotchKa opened with Head Honcho, one of my favorites off of the new album, A Mad and Faithful Retelling, following up with the loud and spectacular Devotchka! off of their debut. One of my favorites of the night was Queen of the Surface Streets, and especially Basso Profundo, which they played third-- the catchy intro song of the new album. During Transliterator, the disco ball spun, and the room was covered by lights that moved with the tempo of the song-- simply magical. During the encore they finally played Undone, which I had been waiting for all night. The last song, How It Ends, was not one of my favorites, and though the title is very appropriate it left the concert on a melancholic note. Regardless, a whimsical and highly memorable set.

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