Nick Urata of DeVotchKa once said of performing his music, “When you are standing naked up there, in the clutches of an attention-challenged audience, you find out immediately what works.” The knowledge of what works onstage and what doesn't is by no means an exact science. If DeVotchka's music contains healthy servings of Balkan revelry, should they prance about maniacally like their dark cousins in Gogol Bordello? Or should they focus on their impeccable musicianship, like the clarinet and kanun virtuosos of the Near East? Or should they focus on the lyrics, and embody the language of each individual song?
At their show on Monday, March 3rd at the Great American Music Hall, they seemed to do all of the above. Certainly, Nick comes off as more of a lovelorn poet than a gypsy-crazed rockstar. He is not a man of theatrics, but it would be a mistake to assume that he is not a great performer. His voice is clear, high, and otherworldly, á la Thom Yorke; his guitar playing is impressive yet relaxed, and he prefers the acoustic axe to his black magic Les Paul (which he is not afraid to crank up when the moment is right); he is a master of the underappreciated but astonishingly beautiful Greek instrument bouzouki; and most of all, he seems to mean every word he sings. Urata is a frontman with a powerful aura, who, without any fuss or pantomime, and seemingly without effort, had everyone enthralled.
Of course, the band's dynamics were in-fucking-credible. Tom Hagerman played the accordion, keyboard, and violin like he was born playing all three at once; Jeanie Shroder hefted her christmas-lighted sousaphone and slow-danced with her double bass unfalteringly, and Shawn King played the trumpet in one hand while drumming with the other. With a band like that, it's kind of hard to suck. And with a frontman like Nick Urata, it's kind of hard to not have to do 2 encores - which they did, with great flair. And even as Nick finished his champagne, a double whisky, and a half-bottle of wine onstage, the feeling of intimacy never left the room, and when he raised the bottle and toasted "the city of his dreams", the cacophonous applause was as genuine as the performance.
DeVotchKa's new album, 100 Lovers, was released on March 1st.