Lost Lake Lounge always has the charming feeling of seeing a show in your own living room — even when sold out, and even when the band doing the selling out has been nominated for a Grammy and typically performs for thousands. As DeVotchKa played a surprise hometown show for 75 people, a couple casually danced in the open space near the bar, fans sat sipping drinks and the rest calmly watched the band perform one of its most intimate sets in a decade. The mood was relaxed and with little fanfare, as if it was any given Sunday — just a group of locals winding down the weekend.
On Friday afternoon, DeVotchKa announced the Sunday performance without warning. Soon enough, word started to spread that the band was playing a small, surprise show and tickets sold out. But what prompted this show? Was it a birthday, a favor, an anniversary? Did they have some sort of news to share? The musicians really didn’t say, sticking to the music while on stage rather than chatting (even though they could have had a normal conversation with anyone standing at the very back of the venue).
The only hint that vocalist Nick Urata gave while on stage was a brief mumble about East Colfax and DeVotchKa’s first hometown gig. But that was enough for it to click. Whether DeVotchKa thought of it that way or not, this show was a thank you, a love note to Denver, as the band prepares for another big Red Rocks Amphitheatre show with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. The collaboration has become DeVotcKa’s biggest success in recent years. It’s avidly supported by its home state — enough to warrant its own album — and it is uniquely Colorado. This show at the little rock club was a way for the band to get back to its roots, like it did in February for a run at Mercury Cafe.
As for the performance, it took place with few surprises — at least compared to the way it was announced. Urata’s soaring vibrato easily filled the black curtained and wood paneled walls of Lost Lake. The nuances of stringed instruments, horns and thundering drums displayed the clarity of the new sound system in the remodeled venue. With a few pops between songs aside, the sound rarely faltered.
Opening with “The Last Beat of My Heart,” DeVotchKa, contained in this setting, had the feeling of a chamber quartet, until the song opened up to the vast spaces it’s accustomed to. From the tension on “Venus in Furs” to the polka-rock of “Comrade Z” and a dance breakdown on “The Clockwise Witness,” DeVotchKa gave a cinematic journey through its many moods. At its hardest moment, the band ripped through “The Man from San Sebastian.” Bottle of wine in hand, Urata gave a simple performance fitting of the casual venue. The musicians, all smiles, played with a relaxed authenticity of a family gathering or a band practice.
After a brief set break, DeVotchKa returned for a cover of “House of the Rising Sun” and closed with “You Love Me,” which appears on the live album with the Colorado Symphony. When the band finished and began packing up the gear, the crowd went back to chatting, many sharing stories of the first time they saw DeVotchKa in tiny settings like this in the early 2000s. On Thursday, the band will take the stage in Colorado again, but this time augmented by the might of the symphony and under the legendary shadow of Red Rocks’ towering monoliths.
Seth McConnell is a member of YourHub at The Denver Post and a regular contributor to Reverb.