Nick Urata, DeVotchKa’s frontman and the physical impersonation of perpetual heartbreak (at least visually, and in demeanor) seems to carry within him the entire idea of St. Valentine, and Valentine’s Day altogether. What does that special day represent, if not the constant toil of all of us, clamoring to attack and subdue love, or a lover, or to succumb to it completely? And Urata’s face, as he belts out the words of DeVotchKa’s gypsy-influenced acousti-punk with one of the most beautiful voices in all of rock, exudes all the twists and turns, ups and downs, elation and throes of pain that come with the journey.
So it was, and has been for years, a perfect marriage of music and the infamous February date of love to see used-to-be local band DeVotchKa perform in Boulder on Valentine’s night. The most recent show, in the Fox rather than the traditional Boulder Theater, was packed tightly, as usual, with both people and resplendent performances.
The band entered the beautifully decorated stage after a slightly protracted wait (there was no opening band, which I was told is customary for the Valentine’s Day DeVotchKa shows) which only whetted the crowd’s anticipation and excitement even more. Led by bassist/sousaphone player Jeanie Schroder, Urata and violinist/accordionist/pianist Tom Hagerman filled out the front of the stage, while drummer Shawn King assumed control of the trap set at the back.
Without a word, they leapt into a fantastically long set in which the customary break before the encore seemed more like a short intermission, followed by another complete set. In all, they played for more than two hours, and very few people left before it ended.
At his stage in their history, there don’t seem to be many songs DeVotchKa plays that couldn’t be called hits, and they visited pretty much all of them last Sunday night. The crowd swayed through songs like “Charlotte Mittnacht (The Fabulous Destiny of…),” “The Clockwise Witness” and “Dearly Departed,” and jumped frantically en masse to more festive tunes like “Vengo Vengo” and “Death By Blonde.” While Hagerman showed a masterful expertise with he delay/sampler through which his violin was looped, Schroder showed piles of grace with the sousaphone and standup bass.
One clear highlight of the night came when King came out from behind the drums with trumpet in hand to join a second trumpeter as the centerpiece for “We’re Leaving,” and later as two dancers performed incredible acrobatics merely feet above our heads hanging onto silk draped from the ceiling during “C’est Ce La.” They also pulled a tune from deep in their Denver roots with their cover of “I Cried Like a Silly Boy,” by native Ted Thacker (from legendary local ’80s band Baldo Rex and the current leader of local band Veronica), made famous on the “Curse Your Little Heart” EP.
Though DeVotchKa have found a much wider audience over the past few years, they keep this Valentine’s Day tradition alive, maybe as a thank you. And they’re perfect for the part.
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Joe McCabe is a Denver photographer and a regular contributor to Reverb. Check out his website.