DeVotchKa Unwraps New Tunes
by Ari Armstrong, September 18, 2004
Style was the first word to come to mind. As we entered the strange old El Jebel temple, a.k.a. the Sherman Events Complex in Denver, the ticket takers gave my wife a pair of miniature red roses.
A guy dressed in a classy black suit and colorful tie floated around the make-shift bar room, looking like he was enjoying his anticipation. "Well, here we are," I overheard him say. He was Shawn King, the drummer for DeVotchKa, I was to learn.
King's fellow band members were similarly attired. Jeanie Schroder wore a black dress with streaks of color; she plays tuba and full bass.
The audience, too, was striking -- many were dressed nicely. A few were dressed -- I don't want to say snazzily. Dressed to kill.
What kind of band was this?
An Old-World charm wafted through the place. I felt like I should be looking on from a partitioned balcony room in an exclusive club, eating fine food I couldn't name and drinking an expensive martini.
Schroder's tuba wore a string of Christmas lights. It sat beside her double bass. Accoustic and electric guitars sat next to a stringed instrument I've never heard of before. An open violin case sat above an -- accordion. Yes, a "squeeze box," chatting nonchalantly with the drum kit, awaiting its rock star.
That would be Tom Hagerman, originally from Colorado Sprigs, looking professorial in his well-trimmed beard and wire-rimmed glasses. I played violin for a few years -- enough years to understand this guy is a very fine musician, but not nearly long enough to approach his skill.
That leaves Nick Urata, originally from New York, who started the band. He's quite a crooner, and he does some nice work with his guitars (and analogous instruments).
All of the band members expertly played at least two instruments. (King played trumpet when they could pry the sticks from his hands.) This is a high level of musical talent.
More impressive was the compositional strength of the songs. There was no playing in the background. This is not the stuff of one-hit wonders, no simplistic, blatant riffs that make a song fun the first dozen times you hear it. This is the sort of music you can grow into. A book you want to read more than once. Some of the pieces take you to an exotic candlelight dinner, others make you want to jump about wildly. All are what lasting music must be: interesting.
Since its 2000 album, "Super Melodrama," Urata and and Hagerman remain in the lineup. The current four created last year's album, "Una Volta," and the brand-new "How it ends." (The concert was the release party.)
Openning for DeVotchKa was Matson Jones, a foursome from Fort Collins. The web page notes, "cellos + bass + drums = good time. 2 boys + 2 girls = really good time." The two girls play cello -- very well -- and sing -- also well. The mad-man drummer brings the well-written songs together nicely. (I don't know their names, because the self-titled album doen't list them. I'll leave interested readers to Google.)
DeVotchKa and Matson Jones are two of my favorite three Colorado bands. The third is Dressy Bessy, a retro pop group from Denver that's as fabulous as any four I've seen.
Colorado is a rich place of unique cultural charms. The varied talents of top local bands are among the reasons I enjoy living here.