DeVotchKa is a genre-defying group most commonly described as indie rock whose haunting arrangements have always sounded like more than only four members. They recently partnered up with the Colorado symphony to bring a full range of musical accompaniment into their sound.
“We have been working towards this moment ever since the band began,” Nick Urata said in MTV’s biography of the group. “We’ve always had orchestral leanings, we wrote for more and more players with every album, when the chance to perform with an entire symphony came we jumped at it.”
Every note of the symphony version of their sound was composed by Urata rather than working through a third party composer.
Tuesday, Jan. 12, DeVotchKa brought their newest music to Seattle in a performance with the Seattle Symphony. Almost every seat was full at Benaroya Hall with a medley of Seattle Symphony regulars and DeVotchKa devotees.
The band consists of Urata on vocals, guitars, theremin, trumpet and piano, Jeanie Schroder on acoustic bass and sousaphone, Shawn King on drums, percussion and trumpet and Tom Hagerman on violin, viola, accordion and piano.
Although the event didn’t feature the aerial performers and pyrotechnics that were part of the Colorado version of the show, it was still very visually pleasing. The symphony and band played and sang passionately in front of a video projection on a backdrop of the hall’s organ pipes. These images ranged from abstract to clips of animations to colorful swirls of motion and texture. The soaring notes of Urata’s voice blended well with the images, as did the genre bending mix of distinctly Spanish percussion with the swell of classical strings.
At least one member of the band switched instruments every song, and leading members of the orchestra were front and center. This brought a varied sound drawing from many different musical backgrounds.
The symphony performed under conductor Pablo Rus Broseta, who became assistant conductor in the fall of last year.
According to their website, the Seattle Symphony is “internationally acclaimed for its innovative programming and extensive recording history,” and recently began their own recording label. The company’s “deep commitment to new music” is apparent in their performances of living composers’ works and collaborations like DeVotchKa’s performance.
While audience behavior was in keeping with a traditional symphony environment for much of the event, some foot tapping broke into full whistles and shouts of joy in response to the beautiful music. Some patrons did not appreciate this, and expressed their anger towards the rowdy audience members and their appreciation for the music.
One fan who has seen the group perform “six or seven times” said that other performances were much wilder, especially when he saw them at the Capitol Hill Block Party in 2008. As for the new symphonic experience, he was in favor, saying “I like the collaboration with the symphony. It’s a beautiful sound.”
This event hasn’t been the only collaboration the band has done in Seattle. The group performed with the Seattle Rock Orchestra in October 2012 at the Moore Theater. They have also had shows at the Showbox in SoDo and various other venues.