2016 Bohemian Nights at NewWestFest
By Dawn Duncan
I first saw DeVotchKa at Bohemian Nights in 2014. Although I had followed the band for a few years on social media, downloaded their music, and learned a bit about them from friends who are raving fans (and who have been since the band’s start), I didn’t really “get” DeVotchKa until I watched them perform live. It was a blistering hot day and as I roasted in the sun on Mountain Avenue, wondering if I might actually melt into the pavement, I became mesmerized by this band’s sound. It was like what I had downloaded, yet better. It had more layers and so much complexity to it and it was….strange. They were so good, I withstood the heat (happily) and waited for more.
First off, a band with a sousaphone immediately gets my attention. Major bonus points on that one, as you don’t see that every day. The band features other instruments not usually present in today’s shows: bouzouki, accordion, and theremin, besides more common ones. But what really got me was Nick Urata’s voice in the live show. Soaring, pulling back at just the right moments, and building up to crescendos that are not always achieved in an outdoor festival setting. When they launched into “Venus In Furs,” one of their more widely known songs, I suddenly felt like I was in the middle of a dark club in Europe, not sweating on the street in Fort Collins at a festival. Nick sang his heart out, song after song, and I immediately realized what made this band go to the next level: they understand storytelling on a level that is extraordinary and every show is “THE show.” They put maximum effort into ensuring that they become the unusual guides who will transfix their audience while walking them along an odd musical path.
DeVotchKa, originally a backing band for burlesque shows, got their big break when one of their songs, “How It Ends,” was selected to be in the trailer for Everything Is Illuminated, in a Gears of War 2 trailer called “The Last Day,” and in an episode of Everwood. Their music has also been in Little Miss Sunshine, From there, they have received several other placements, which, in today’s music world, is considered one of the best (if not the best) ways for a band to generate substantial revenue and reach the masses quickly with the music. This Grammy-nominated act, although far from mainstream, strikes a chord with those who appreciate the bizarre, the artistic, and the hard-to-categorize type of music. It’s Eastern European/indie folk/punk-infused/dark cabaret/art-rock. Make sense? Well, this is DeVotchKa. In music, it’s rather cliché to tell people, “you just have to see it live to get it,” but this is that act. When you see them at a festival, they’re a bit more subdued than their annual Day of the Dead shows in Denver and Boulder, which sell out quickly and feature theatres full of costume-bedecked patrons and the band plus musical guests in full Dia de los Muertos attire.
Adding to the flair of the DeVotchKa experience are the two aerialist performers who travel with the band. Recently, I saw the band perform with the Colorado Symphony at Red Rocks and the aerialists delivered a mind-blowing show. Their skills and the beauty of their in-air dancing and tricks combined with DeVotchKa’s unique sound are the icing on the cake. DeVotchKa is the act that will mesmerize you, get into your soul, and haunt you with such unexpected moments that you’ll leave marked forever with their artistic stamp.