DeVotchKa played to a full house at The Annex on Friday night.
Friday night at the Annex, DeVotchKa served a musical meal of red wine and pizza; a little bit of class with a little bit of trash, making a whole lot of delicious feel-good -- and a side of gas.
If you've ever been to Europe, you've seen that man or woman on the street corner playing for love and bread, their foreign sound flirting with your ears. DeVotchKa is what happens when all those gypsies join a caravan and tour the United States. If it wasn't for the trunk full of crazy instrumentation, DeVotchKa's songs would resemble Weezer if Rivers Cuomo let William Blake wield the angst.
Frontman Nick Urata hovered somewhere between Morrissey and Ricky Ricardo, dressed like a best man kicked out of a Mexican wedding. His wistful crooning, reminiscent of the upper register of Sting's taffy timbre, and melodramatic mandolin/guitar/theremin playing didn't connect with the crowd at first. That didn't happen until Urata took multiple swigs of cheap wine later in the show. I was a bit disappointed by the fact that it took boozing to get this wannabe Lothario to lose the contrived shtick and meld with the crowd, but I was happy that other members of the band were able to steal the limelight while their front man made a demi-ass of himself.
The chances of seeing a sousaphone live and in-person is slim. The possibility of seeing a Christmas-light encrusted sousaphone played by a dancing woman in stacked heels is, well, as likely as seeing a Christmas-light encrusted sousaphone played by a dancing woman in stacked heels. Jeanie Schroder blew like Gabriel and also took her turn at the upright bass, sensuously gyrating and singing, a saucy smile worn alongside the red rose in her hair. Both instruments provided a deep, soul-rumbling bass that paired well with the intensely loud and throbbing percussion produced by Shawn King, the golden star of the evening.
The fact that this King did not keel over and die after this set is beyond amazing. Aside from providing complex Latin, polka, rock, marching band, etc. tempos at lightening speed, King switched seamlessly from drums to trumpet to glockenspiel to one-handed drumming and more. His coordination and energy -- including obsessive tempo keeping by way of air drums and flamenco foot stomping -- were made from the stuff ice skaters use to make triple axels look easy.
Enhanced by theatrical lighting, the body-rockin' beats kept ears blissfully perked. The stand-out moment of the evening came in the encore: Frank Sinatra's "Something Stupid." Sparking a venue-wide dance frenzy, the band seemed completely unified with energetic camaraderie. By the end, puddles of thawed snow mixed with sweat on the floors. If only this jubilant energy could have clenched the evening, the band would have ridden out on a high note, but the bittersweet "You Love Me" closed the night.
Despite the fanfare, most of the show carried a visual disconnect, as if the band was merely warming up for something bigger. Disappointments included the use of a prerecorded loop, which seemed like cheating from such a creative band; and stoic violinist Tom Hagerman's forgettable performance, which despite being lush and mnemonic, may as well have been another backing track. DeVotchka is certainly a wildly entertaining and refreshing band to the ears, and they have much to offer with their visual antics, but until they perfect the recipe, they still leave a hunger for something more.