Live Music + Gig Reviews

DeVotchKa @ Cargo, London

11 August 2009

Having formed in 1997 and toured as a backing band for burlesque shows, DeVotchKa have spent 12 years perfecting their unique blend of folk musics (both of Europe and the Americas) with post and classic rock leanings.

Tonight’s gig sees them thrill a sold out crowd with material drawn from throughout their career. A show stopping cover of Velvet Underground‘s classic paen to sado-masochism, Venus In Furs (originally featured on 2006’s Curse Your Little Heart EP), highlights a lot of what makes DeVotchKa such a musically fascinating proposition. They take experimental and classic rock and blend in traditional folk music.

It’s their fantastic songwriting and heart-touching lyrics that have enabled them to build up such a loyal fan base. The gorgeous Dearly Departed causes hairs to stand on end. Like a half-imagined wedding band in The Godfather, they tug at heart strings with classic tales of love and loss.

Moving seamlessly from the comedic to the tragic, there’s all the danger and romance of Casablanca in the DeVotchKa live show, while their soundtrack for 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine further underlines their music’s natural compatibility with the cinematic.

Hardened by years on the road, the musicianship of the four-piece is flawless, with an exciting spontaneity to the arrangements. The bass is provided by Jeanie Schroder via upright or tuba, complimented perfectly by Shawn King’s top notch drumming and Tom Hagerman’s virtuoso violin and accordion playing.

Front man Nick Urata’s fantastic use of massively distorted bouzoki recalls Warren Ellis of Nick Cave And The Bad Seeds and is electrifying, particularly on set climax, Such A Lovely Thing. He is also a master of the theremin, which he employs throughout the set. A triumph of Russian engineering on the part of Leon Theremin and patented in 1928, there’s more than a hint of patriotism in Urata’s use of the instrument.

On show stopping epic, sing-along How It Ends, taken from the 2007 album of the same name, there’s more than a hint of Roy Orbison in his voice. The crowd, a bizzare mix of Shoreditch trendies and eastern European ex-pats, sing every note at the top of their voices. It’s quite a moment.

We’re Leaving (also from How It Ends) inspires another massive sing-along with its epic Mariachi chorus. Like bedfellows in folk/klezmer/rawk/experimental fusion A Hawk And A Hacksaw, DeVotchKa have the personality, charisma and ear for a hook that helps them carry the whole endeavour off with such fantastic panache.

At their most experimental and noisy, they recall much of the Klezmer noise of Montreal label Constellation’s output, particularly A Silver Mount Zion and Black Ok Orchestra; kind of ASMZ via Bruce Springsteen, if you will. On tonight’s evidence DeVotchKa have established themselves as a wonderful meeting of pop and progression in music.

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More on Devotchka
DeVotchKa @ Cargo, London
Devotchka @ 93 Feet East, London