DeVotchKa Strikes Again

In Uncategorized on May 1, 2011 at 8:31 pm

By Rebecca Antsis
Staff Writer

TEMPE, Ariz. — Vengo! Vengo! Gusto! Me gusta! Dolorous. Frenzied. Tender. Aflame. Alive.

Welcome to DeVotchKa.

Like vagrants lost among mariachi bands, bleary-eyed cowboys and Romanian fiddlers, DeVotchKa seems to keep company with no one for too long, unfurling a distinct oeuvre, unmistakably their own.

On March 13, DeVotchKa blew into town to unveil new ballads off their latest album, “100 Lovers,” in Tempe’s The Marquee Theater.

Seeing them in concert three times prior did nothing to immune me from the overall fervor that befell the crowd.

Nick Urata, DeVotchKa crooner
Photo by Rebecca Antsis

During the concert, the multi-instrumentalist Magi wove together musical influences from cultures too busy dancing and shouting at one another to notice they were being alchemized into a Molotov cocktail of Gypsy, Mariachi, Slavic, Klezmer, Bolero and, of course, Rock ‘n’ Roll.

DeVotchKa frontman, Nick Urata, of part Sicilian and Romani ancestry, strolls onto the stage, signature bottle of red wine in hand, looking poised and ready to cause mass swooning. As the group’s main crooner/troubadour, he fits the bill looking like some suffering rock ‘n’ roll deity, and bears more than a passing resemblance to George Clooney.

Jeanie Schroder, the quartet’s only female member, enters after Urata in her signature-style vintage-looking cocktail dress (tonight it is red). She picks up one of the three instruments she will play throughout the evening: a sousaphone (type of tuba) adorned with pink Christmas lights. Schroder  beams generously, a stark contrast to Urata’s more brooding demeanor.

Shawn King and Tom Hagerman, both veritable musical virtuosos in their own right, appear after Schroder. King, trumpet and percussion maestro, is dressed sleekly in all black, appearing almost as if he could pass for a drummer in an East Coast post-punk band. Accordionist and violinist, Tom Hagerman, comes onto stage in a brown suit, suggesting that he could own the quirky antiquarian bookshop down the way, somewhere in Poland, circa 1930.

Throughout the night, DeVotchKa intermingled classics from previous albums with newer material found on their latest effort “100 Lovers.” As the show progressed, Urata proved his voice to be as poignant and plaintive as ever.

Though much of DeVotchKa’s aesthetic remained familiar, some facets of the show pointed to a departure from their old-world feel. The songs from “100 Lovers” sounded unmistakeably cleaner and more lyrically streamlined. It is almost as if Urata was spending more time on jet planes and less time in seedy establishments getting inebriated while mythologizing women. Gone are the melodramatic lyrics that relay the self-indulgence of amorous misadventures. Think less Russian pathos and more polished indie-pop anguish.

The highlight of the show took place during their encore when DeVotchKa finished with their classic gypsy tune “Such a Lovely Thing.” The theater came alive, feet suddenly aflame — the rapture had arrived. The crowd, formally just a bevy of normal Arizona denizens, cast aside all pretense in favor of a desperate passion, like celebrants at a final Dionysian revel.

Go see DeVotchKa. Do not think. Just Go. The quartet will make you clench your fists and beat at your heart. Weep, bleat and soar in one fell swoop. Expect DeVotchka’s peculiar brand of soul-enlarging romanticism. You will discover dance moves you never dreamed you had. You will leave with shimmering images of foreign femme fatales and dusty desert tableaus. Urata”s forlorn and beautiful howling will continue to reverberate in your ears, long after the concert has ended.


Whiskey at Sundance’s: Cherry lips, tigress hips, biker tips

In Whiskey Wisdom on May 1, 2011 at 8:16 pm
by Rantsis
This is no joint to bring mama to.
On no sir siree.
Unless of course mama is a cherry lipped Tiger Army groupie, apparated straight outta Pulp Fiction hell; a couple Varga tats to boot.
Feeling dirty?
Now you’re gettin’ it. Here the hell yeah’s reign and the bands are of a tenor I term bad-ass, Prescott’s premiere (shoot, we’re being honest here- only) Rock N’ Roll Dive.
Friends…if cool lives anywhere in Prescott, hear you me; it lives here.I siddle on up to pull my fastest Lois Lane on my next barman philosopher: too-cool-for-school Bobby Joe.
Talented lass that I am, I pick the only bar stool missing half it’s leather casing. The bar itself is lined with a padding (I could not make this stuff up if I tried), the color of which is reminiscent of an Elvis spewing jukebox and ’52 red Corvette shiny paint-job.

I am impressed but uneasy. Do I allow my newly tanned forearms (consult Issue 2 if lost) a bit of repose on this dubious (vinyl-esque?) marshmellowness. Eep, I wonder… what midnight debauchery it has witnessed? Eh, no matter. The giest of the place rubs off on me. Live dangerously it tells me. Drive vintage hotrods it says. Keep fast dames fer’ company.

Walls are lined with the saucy artwork of patrons past; a patchwork of inked bar-knaps. Some with obscenities. Others obvious yearning from the artistic ether. My eyes linger over these unrealized DaVincis while I wait for Bobby Joe.

Where ya from Bobby Joe?
BJ: Here
Yep, I was born here.
Did you go anywhere else? Did you stay here?
I’ve lived here my whole life. I did a lot of traveling though. I…uh..
(A touch of cowboy modesty paralyzes Bobby Joe)
played in a band that traveled 12 years.
So how long have you been bartending?
Well… here at Sundances, for just about seven years.
So, would you say you’re passionate about bartending?
Iiiii.. not as much as I used to be. Though I love what I do, it’s probably the only thing I’m really good at. But you know, the passion, it’s , it’s a lot of adult day care so when everybody’s having fun and you facilitate that, that’s awesome but you also see people at their lowest too, which (chooses word more gingerly) isn’t always fun.
Prescott is the largest rehab town as well..
Yeah, it never used to be that way.
(A slightly uncomfortable haha follows)
I lived here 39 years. The place used to be a lot crazier, it’s toned down.
I mean as far as bars and stuff. As far as the rehab thing, it’s come out of the woodwork. You know, it’s just another way for people to make money.
So Prescott used to be…?
It used to be a little bit crazier, it’s like the Wild West town that people would come to vacation to and now..throughout the years, so many people have moved here…they’re trying to make it more of like family tourist destination, same thing they’re doing in Vegas.
And a lot of bikers come through…?
Yeah, there was a lot of bikers, you know the whole biker thing has changed too. Now anybody, any dentist that has 50 grand to kill can buy his leather chaps, his trailer, his bike here and ride it around the square to look cool. So yeah, there’s a lot of bikers. There’s real bikers who come through too.
Really, how can you tell?
It’s hard to tell ya’ know, really. You look for patches and colors and stuff. But a lot of bars won’t let colors come on ya’ know.
[One thing I will say] is that many years ago, someone came up with the idea that this was a gay bar. How many gay bars have death metal shows is my answer. We encourage everyone to come in here. We’re nowhere near homophobic so we say come on in.
So what do you with your band now?
I don’t have a band. I played with a group of musicians a couple weeks ago and that was a lot of fun. My girlfriend is pregnant so I’m gonna do the family thing. I’ll get into music again…but I tried to make it my career before…after 12 years man..it was a lot of hard work and I don’t know if I’m ready to do that again..
(I can obviously commiserate since in my last life I was Janis Joplin)
What do you play?
I play the upright.
You play upright bass?
Yeah, bass guitar a little bit..
Nice…so can you tell some the craziest things you’ve seen go down?
Yeah…I had a doctor who – I didn’t know he was a doctor at the time- I had somebody come in here and be rude, and I had to throw him out, I mean the guy got super crazy. Throwing chairs and stuff. He turned out to be an ER doctor, and he got in trouble. So…but I won’t say who it is. Just stuff like that. That’s the less glamorous part of the job. Crazy shit equals not a good time really and the police involved and that part I don’t really like. I wish everybody was a happy drunk but they’re not. but I’ve seen crazy things in my bartending career . I’ve had a pub crawl of 50 people show up and about, 15 of ’em were Flying Elvii.
(I must look like he just spoke Clingon and described an unheard of strain of larva)
Flying Elvises, they’re a parachuting group. They go and parachute in their full jump suits and Elvis wigs and the glasses and they came in and kicked my butt for about 15 minutes and then just took off. The coolest stuff I could say I’ve seen here has been some of the talent I’ve booked through here, bands and stuff. And I’ve had some really phenomenal music come through here. It started off in this town where you could only play four hours of covers, then you could gig out. But for the original musician…there was nothing. Now we do that here,
I do a lot of original live music . Do anything from old school country to death metal and just about everything in between. I’ve had some artists on the verge of making it. Pretty big acts for this shithole..
Guutermouth, Youth brigade, Agent Orange, Supersuckers, you know just bands that are really…well the underground music stuff. Bands that play here in bars like this, that’s the best music you’re going to see out there. Because anything that’s marketed..you know…you got Justin Beiber or whatever, that’s what they market nowadays. Real rock ‘n’ roll is being played in these places, and they’re struggling. Going on tour, just going to the next place, just making sure they enough gas money. They’re passionate about it.
It’d be great if you could get Gogol Bordello.
There is no way I could afford him. I love Gogol Bordello, if they had an upright bass player they’d be one of my favorite bands but..
I hear ya.
That’s actually what I want to start thinking about doing a gypsy punk band. I had a gypsy punk band called Holy, Holy, Holy here from Oregon. They were awesome.
Do you own this place now?
I manage it. But this is my baby. I’ve been going to this bar ever since I’ve been old enough to drink when it was way…way-way different. It was more a 40’s something bar. But this was always my favorite place because I love dive, I love the undergound aspect of it. And I could always good drinks here cheaply and I’d always come her and get a good buzz on and then go around
With my band though I was working with other bands and this and that , finally my current boss had different plans for the bar, but we talked and she let me run with the idea. We turned this from the laughing stock of downtown to really contender for.
(I can tell Bobby Joe’s not sure what they’re contending for…)
We like to do our own thing here, we don’t really pay attention to what everyone else does here.
Seeing so much action, people from all sorts of walks of life. What do feel the bar has taught you?
You learn the bad side of human nature real fast. But there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s good to be aware of stuff like that. A lot of people just want to get away from their shit. To come here. You get to know people but you don’t want to press ’em too much, because half the reason why they’re coming here is to relax or forget…
Anything surprised you?
I’ve had prominent people you know, in the community come in here and then they act like a jackass but because they’re prominent. They act like they’re supposed to get better treatment. You’re prominent, you’re not supposed to be doing this stuff in public cuz’ it’s kind out of the beaten path.
(A guy only imagineable without teeth and on a railroad in ten years queries “Is there really wisdom in whiskey?” Is the universe fucking with me? What???)
Are you familiar with the Tao, the way, the flow?
Yeah, kinda.
Do you think there is a Tao of bartending?
Well yeah, sure. You have to have a short memory.
Yeah, because you’re giving something to people that makes them act like an idiot. And everybody lets their hair down a little bit. So unless they do something real bad, you gotta forget about it the next day. Who am I to ultimately judge them? You got to forgive them a little bit.
Like a priest?
(Bobby Joe chuckles) Definitely hear enough confessions.
Last question: what is the meaning of life?
The meaning of life…? I was going to try and be clever and answer from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, what is it? Four. Four is the meaning of life. Ahh…the meaning of life?
(I think Bobby Joe is slightly annoyed with my barraging at this point in my venture)
I don’t know…be happy.
No matter what your situation, you can sit there and whine about it or you can just be happy regardless of your situation.
Thank you very much Bobby Joe.
You’rrrrre welcome.

And my Bobby Joe is off like the snap of a barrel of a gun to serve the soon-to -be toothless gentleman.
Bye Bobby Joe.

The Tao of Imbibing. Yang.

In Whiskey Wisdom on March 27, 2011 at 4:49 pm

The Tao of the Imbibing: Part I. Yang

No white powdery stuff on sticky linoleum floors. No cowboys saddle and slumped, drowning in whiskey. No lady Madonnas with bats for lashes drinking drinks (whooff…) two times stronger than stuff you would want to clean your earrings with.

No, this is 1pm on a gloriously sunny spring afternoon. So pretty in fact, I contemplate abandoning the interview altogether. Aurora’s fingertips beckon. To hell with chit-chat, droning for deadlines, tap TAP tapping at my keyboard like some damn chimpanzee trial and tribulatin’ for tropical fruit. I want to:

a) work on my tan (and thereby directly increase my “exotic” quotient)
b) get shtupped (consult your local Yiddish woman if you require translation on that one)
c) get some shut-eye.

Entre or sca-daddle? A tale of two body parts: one forearm basks in Aurora’s gifts, reluctant to leave her while the other (yet to master Hooligan’s 29 stairs) quivers at the railing.

I experience the fear and trembling. and become that which I despise: a waffler.

Waffling continues for sometime before I figure–what the hey–I still got knees that work and besides, I am wearing sensible shoes. My heinie races up the stairs.

Sure enough, my interviewee is behind the bar. The crowd is scant (Oh my daytime bartenders—how you are relegated to out-of-towners in search of big screens and football or single brandy businessmen. How we hope they throw you some change!)

Three windows facing Whiskey Row let the sunshine stream in generously. I can see how immaculate the metal latticework is on the ceiling, the sheen of the tiled dance floor, the forest green carpeting. No doubt about it, the place is in good shape. I feel unsettled. Dive-ish bar. Inside. Clean? Sunny? I feel unsettled, but install myself anyhow in a stool away from other customers. But no so far away as to suggest I have trouble leaving my house in the morning. Scott, tidy-haired tidily attired bustlesand bristles with energy, far more than the amount his four patrons require. If he pays me any mind it is a couple of fuzzy glances of the squeaky clean variety.

Rebecca Antsis: So Scott…what is your favorite drink to make for patrons?

Scott: I like to make Bloody Mary’s. I don’t know any of that fancy stuff. I’m an old school trained bartender, I’m no mixologist. I entertain people and I pour ‘em drinks.

(Scott is so matter fact, I just want to ruffle his feathers.)

Ok Scott, tell me your philosophy on life.

(He inhales deeply, small shrug. This question always seem to trouble people.)

Well… I try to walk around without a chip on my shoulder. I try to let the bad things just roll off my shoulder, ya’ know. Always try to not let the shit get to ya. Stay happy. Keeps ya’ healthy, plus…it’s contagious. I’m in my 40’s and no high blood pressure.

(He beams. Last time I heard someone this chipper they were selling something. Then again, I guess he is. Or is he? I probe. )

But what’s the craziest thing you’ve seen behind the bar?

(Look of concentration on his well-groomed brow) Oh, uh..gosh. I seen a group a homeless guys, (slightly embarrassed, pause) transients come in and pool change to buy two beers.

(Better but I want to hear about cowboys on coke and circus freaks and biker brawls and general madness. I am in just one of those moods. I probe further.)

Bikers. They behave?

Oh yeah…I mean we don’t have a ‘no colors’ policy that or anything like that that rejects bikers.  To my knowledge , we never had any problems. A few groups coming in on their rides, checking places out…

(I am crestfallen. This man is not capable of a mean word. I cast away all pretense at subtlety)

Ok, Scott. There has got to be something you are not telling me. Anything crazy happen here you’re forgetting?

Uh, well (I half expect him to scratch his head), on St. Patty’s day, during the afternoon a big college age fella, big (gesticulates broad shoulders). Seemed sober as a judge. Ordered a coors and a rum an’ coke, drinks the coors, half the rum, and I had to throw him out. I never seen anyone turn on me that quick.

(Ooh..have I found my juice?)

What do you mean?

(Scott wobbles in circles to demonstrate)

I think my work here is done. Scott’s got war stories, just will not divulge me any. I thank him and head out in search of some yin action.

If you are interested in being featured for next issue’s Whiskey Wisdom, have your own barroom philosophy or slang, or just plain want to tell her how swell you think her articles are, send Beka an e-mail! rebeccaantsis@gmail.com