I’ve never taken DeVotchKa for a particularly romantic band, or at least not for one that champions the pleasures of monogamy. Sure, songs like “Queen of the Surface Streets,” one of the first songs the eclectic Colorado band played last night at the Mercury Café, features the sentimental chorus:
“I will move these rocks for you my love
I will tear them up out of the Earth
And I will bend my spine 'til it's quitting time
'Cause I know what your love is worth.”
But this is also a band that a) has an album titled “100 Lovers,” b) features an exotic belly dancer in a live show meant for Valentine’s couples, and c) closed out their regular set with a song that concludes with the line “I’m still trying to forget / When you said you loved me.”
Yet the Denver-based ensemble, one that has played a substantial role in putting Colorado music on the map, effortlessly imbued the modestly-sized Mercury with romantic ambiance for their first of three sold-out Valentine’s shows. Couples slow-danced and swayed to the lilting strings of Tom Hagerman, the exuberant brass of Jeanie Schroder and the guest horn players, and the seductive vocals of Nick Urata, unaffected by the occasional elements of lechery.
DeVotchKa’s music has never failed to engross me with its worldliness. The four members, including percussionist and organist Shawn King, are an orchestra unto themselves, a collection of musicians that seem to foam at the mouth with musicality and pry out the full potential from each and every instrument they wield.
Case in point: in a matter of seconds after “100 Other Lovers” finished, Hagerman switched from strings to a speedy piano riff, and Schroder from a delicate flute melody to a driving upright bass groove for “All the Sand in All the Sea.”
With such variety at their disposal, it should be no surprise the band ran the gamut genre-wise in their two hour set. Songs spanned from sing-along chamber pop (“How It Ends”) to gypsy cabaret (“Contrabanda”) to indie folk (“The Clockwise Witness.”) A cover of the Frank Sinatra standard "Somethin' Stupid" was particularly welcome given the spirit of the so-called holiday.
Given the vast scale of the group's sound and ability, their ability to maintain the performance's intimacy without obvious measures like unplugging or sticking strictly to love songs was a feat unto itself.