NEW YORK, NY—What happens when you combine the passion of classical music, the grunt of punk and the beauty of folk? The result is DeVotchKa, Denver’s multi-instrumental gypsy punk quartet. Playing more instruments than I could even recognize, the quartet totally rocked out New York’s Webster Hall and roused an energy level that was very different to any other kind of rock, indie, dance or pop crowd I have seen. The four-piece proved—contrary to popular belief —that classical music can be cool. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if this foursome were once the kids who sat in the back of band practice class tagging their names on chairs and sneaking out for cigarettes. With a cello, violin, trumpet, accordion, tuba, guitar and much more, DeVotchKa fused Romani, Greek, Slavic, Mexican and other influences with punk and folk to create music that was seductive, sexy, aggressive, and intense. And it was refreshing to be at a gig that was all about the music.
Just to be clear, I don’t use the phrase “all about the music” in same the way that so many cheesy frontmen do when describing their band’s approach to their trade, I use it because DeVotchKa’s gig was largely lyric-free. Instead of a frontman being the focus of the show, the audience was hooked in by the way the band controlled and manipulated their instruments. But the best thing to come out of DevotchKa’s gig was the strong reminder of the basic and simple idea of how much you can say without saying anything at all. So many artists nowadays use their time in the spotlight to ram political statements, insincere insight and meaningless life lessons down our throats. So to watch a band that is solely about the music is refreshing. And to see a crowd excited—genuinely excited—by music that doesn’t rely on tales of heartache or conflict to have an impact, has a true element of charm.
But there was something else—something bigger about the vibe among the crowd. It was liberating to be at a gig where the focus wasn’t on the frontman. The crowd wasn’t guided or directed by one person’s vocals or intention, which gave everyone in the audience a lot more responsibility. Fans had the creative freedom to interpret what they saw, felt and heard in any way they wanted, instead of the way the band wanted. And this is powerful. Without the boundaries and borders of lyrics and band hierarchies, the experience is more open—for everyone involved. There might be less instant gratification with this type of music, sure, but what’s offered can be much deeper and longer-lasting than what plenty of other bands have the capacity to serve up.
What topped off DeVotchKa’s gig for me though, came toward the end of the show when they brought an element of Cirque du Soleil to Webster Hall. Ropes were dropped from the top of the stage and a trapeze artist started performing impressive tricks to the beat of the music. And it was pretty darn brilliant. In a short time this group covered a lot of bases. DeVotchKa boasted music that was heavy and dramatic, frantic, fast-paced and full of energy, and soothing and stripped back. They’re not my favorite band, and will never make it into my top 20 but seeing this type of show is grounding. It’s a reminder that creativity is still very much alive in music, and for every band that simply repeats those before it, there’s an equal amount who will wow you with things you would never expect. You’ve just got to find them.