With or without the backing of a symphony, a DeVotchKa show is a cultural experience. This sense of culture is powerful. It can be felt at the band’s annual Halloween shows, in a room of less than 80 at Lost Lake Lounge or, as they did Thursday night, to a capacity crowd at Red Rocks.
The Colorado Symphony, led by Music Director Scott O’Neil, took the stage as a full body just after 9 p.m. and started into its welcoming number. As the music began, a visibly irritated O’Neil glared over his shoulder back at the soundboard that sits tucked into the first few rows at Red Rocks. The sound was off. With a graceful clap of his hands the symphony stopped. It seemed that the sound was overpowering his onstage monitors. Adjustments were made and moments later they started again and on walked DeVotchKa.
A cinematic adventure, DeVotchKa’s music was a perfect fit for films such as “Little Miss Sunshine” and “I Love You, Philip Morris.” But when joined by the Colorado Symphony, this sound becomes even more immersive.
Though O’Neil stood in front of the symphony, it was DeVotchKa’s members who led the music on Thursday.
Percussionist and trumpet player Shawn King stationed in the heart of the ensemble, held a tight rein from timpani to trap set. Violinist, accordion and piano player Tom Hagerman found himself in his familiar down stage right where he led all string players. Jeanie Schroder wore her sousaphone as if it were an evening gown and lead the brass section with every twirl. At the front of it all was singer and guitarist Nick Urata who directed the crowd with his voice that rang through the clear night.
Outside of all the added elements that the Symphony brings, the band played their normal run of show. DeVotchKa blazed through familiar tunes like “Comrade Z,” “All the Sand in all the Sea” and “We’re Leaving.”
But an orchestra and Red Rocks as the setting wasn’t enough for DeVotchKa. The band invited more musicians to the stage, bringing on the children’s symphony, El Sistema Colorado, for “Firetrucks on the Boardwalk.” And that still wasn’t it. The “Slavic Sisters” — normally a staple of DeVotchKa’s indoor show — provided acrobatics throughout the set.
Crowd interaction was at a minimum but Urata did get a laugh out of the audience with an attempt at the call and response Harry Belafonte song “Day-O, or The Banana Boat Song.”
The encore included a cover of “House of the Rising Sun” into a spirited “Enemy Guns” and the group’s most commercially popular song “How It Ends.”
Evan Semón is a Denver freelance writer and photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work.
Glenn Ross is a Denver-based photographer and regular contributor to Reverb. See more of his work here.