“Is that a… tuba?” “Sure looks like one.” Actually it was a sousaphone (though I had to ask someone better informed than I to find that out). And not just a sousaphone, but one covered in fairy-lights.
The instrument in question was played by Jeanie Schroder, one member of Devotchka, the Grammy-winning-but-not-really-that-well-known-over-here four-piece who provided the soundtrack for hit indie film Little Miss Sunshine. Far less reverential than fellow Balkan-influenced act Beirut, Devotchka write big swirling songs to sway to. Preferably with a wine bottle held aloft and your arm around a friend’s shoulders.
There are strong eastern European elements to their sound, what with an accordion and a trumpet making frequent appearances on stage, but also a definite mariachi feel, down primarily to the be-stubbled and open collared guitarist and vocalist Nick Urata. Blessed with a superb voice, powerful yet capable of delicacy, he easily whipped up the crowd in the small, sweaty corner of London that is Brick Lane’s 93 Feet East.
However, before they took to the stage, the evening has started rather inauspiciously with a support set of throbbing nipple disco from Paul, St Paul, and The Apostles, who performed their single Let’s Pretend We’re Gay clad in a Rocky Horror-esque array of corsets, pearls, suspenders and big hair (both men and women) while merrily indulging in spot of robot dancing. It was rather self consciously quirky, drama-studenty stuff and didn’t really get off the ground despite their best efforts. Not that it mattered overly, because Devotchka arrived promptly on stage shortly afterwards and, though they began in a fairly low key fashion, things soon started to the warm up.
As they played song after song, neither band nor audience showed signs of flagging; Urata is a charismatic front man, whether twiddling with his theremin or pounding his guitar. A cover of Venus In Furs was so idiosyncratic as to be barely recognisable but with their own material they were on stronger ground; very confident and imbued with a real sense of the theatrical.
How It Ends with its big sing-a-long chorus a popular one, going on audience reaction, and deservedly so was confidently delivered mid-set, with the band saving their more up-tempo stuff for the end. Unapologetically anthemic and accessible, they deserve to be playing bigger spaces than this and I expect they soon will be.