review by Spike
photos by Hilary Harris
I first encountered DeVotchKa back in 2004, purely by accident; they were the support act for a Jim White show at the Tractor Tavern. If you’re a KEXP listener, you’re already familiar with the epic sweep of DeVotchKa’s music. (If you aren’t, check out our two week Streaming Archive for a great live set the band played for KEXP 500 Club members prior to the sold out evening show at the Showbox SoDo.)
So what was it like to experience DeVotchKa at a half-full Tractor? Kind of odd, actually. The band is all about “big”; majestic strings, crescendo after crescendo, and a glorious Balkan stomp played at rock intensity. Frontman Nick Urata is a master of the grand gesture, and the inclusiveness in DeVotchKa’s music doesn’t come from intimacy, it comes from the sheer celebratory nature of the band’s sound, even in the darker and more menacing songs. It’s no surprise that as their popularity grows and the venues get bigger, the more comfortable the band seem. Short version: I watched part of tonight’s show right up front and part from the back, and while they can be thrilling up close, Urata and co. are equally adept at projecting to the far reaches of the hall. And at the Showbox SoDo, that’s pretty far. I watched this same venue swallow Cat Power a few weeks ago; DeVotchKa, who’ve logged years playing the burlesque circuit, know the rules of the showbiz game.
Highlights were, expectedly, the radio-friendly songs, as the band clearly fed off the crowd’s response. “Transliterator” was even more exhilarating live than on record, and the expanded string section the band has taken on tour with them shined on this Mad And Faithful Telling standout. “How It Ends” got an equally rapturous reception, and rightly so; it’s one of those songs that perfectly captures the band’s sonic stew of influences. (The song was recently licensed to Gerber, interestingly enough; if they choose to use it for one of their baby food commercials, that’s gonna be an interesting little plot line.)
Kudos to the band for adding even more theatrics to their show as they graduate to the larger rooms; the aerial feats of the Slavic Sisters are, to the say the least, not the usual fare at rock shows. Then again, neither are DeVotchKa.