Everyone told me how lucky I was to have scored a ticket to the under hyped show by Devotchka at The Viper Room on Monday, February, 2, 2009, but I didn't appreciate how lucky until the show began at 9:30 that night.
The curtains parted, after standing around for nearly an hour to secure a spot right in front, and Devotchka proceeded to connive, cajole and conspire to reduce us to a helpless jelly of dancing gypsies.
I'd first seen them a year and a half ago when they played the Swerve Festival in Barnsdall Park on September 30, 2007, when they were running around on the success of their score for the movie, Little Miss Sunshine.
I think there were more of them at that show and when I picked up their latest CD, A Mad and Faithful Telling, last week, (and promptly fell in love with it) I assumed there had to be at least ten people making this extravagant music.
Therefore, I was amazed that only four musicians, with occasional, able assistance of a couple of additional players, were able to achieve the kaleidoscopic carnival of sound this band is famous for.
I love this Balkan/gypsy singing style and Devotchka's Nick Urata falls somewhere between the sweet beauty of Zack Condon's vocals with Beirut and the anarchic yelping of Eugene Hutz in Gogol Bordello. He's perhaps the best singer of all. His voice could melt a bear's heart. Of course, he is also their magnificent guitarist, and plays the electric mandolin and, last but not least, the theremin.
Jeanie Schroder 's tuba playing, which she inhabits like a house decorated for Christmas, is infectiously joyous and slyly humorous. She also provides bass violin and adds a depth and breadth this band needs.
Thomas Hegerman is a violin wizard so extraordinary I would be happy simply to watch him play classical violin as a solo act. But then, his piano skills appear to be at the same level and, as with Jeanie, there were moments when this look of pure joy would spread across his face. I think they love what they do, because they grin a lot. They had my face aching from grinning back at them so much.
Not to be outdone, their drummer, Shawn King, is also a musical virtuoso, who drops the drums, sometimes mid-song, and starts playing trumpet...or accordion...or xylophone...or wood blocks.
Each song is a gem and the new material especially so, because it's what I'm most familiar with. From A Mad and Faithful Telling they played "Basso Profundo", "Along the Way" with two great trumpets blaring away, the incredibly beautiful "The Clockwise Witness" and "Transliterator" which features some of Thomas' most gorgeous piano work.
Likewise The Viper Room itself performed flawlessly. Some of the best sound I've ever heard and a fabulous lighting display that complimented the band as they deserved.
Being the Sunset Strip, and with a band made popular by a well-loved film, there was a Hollywood element to the audience, but they weren't offensive. In fact, to their credit, I will say they really seemed to recognize the amazing talent in front of them, and behaved accordingly, even respectfully.
But then most of the audience was behind me, and I was in that blissful state where it's just you and the band and everything else just melts away, even though we were packed in, cheek to jowl.
Devotchka took me to the outer edges of all my emotions and brought me back again. I don't think I've ever heard more waltzes and polkas this side of a Richard Rodgers musical. The entire experience was enthralling. I've got to see them again.