By Rebecca Antsis
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.
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.