TVD Live: DeVotchKa at Clyfford Still Museum

The gist on Clyfford Still, one of the most celebrated Abstract Expressionist artists in American history, is that for over three decades, nearly his entire body of work has been sealed away somewhere far from public and scholarly view. Part of the agreement stipulated in his will was that none of his individual works were to be sold posthumously. The sale of individual Still pieces was rare even during his lifetime, making his work extremely hard to find, but his entire estate was instructed to be given to whichever American city creates a permanent home for the entire opus.

Jump to November 18th, the opening night of Denver’s Clyfford Still Museum, where 2,400 works entered into public viewing for the first time since Still’s death in 1980. Exhibits are arranged by states in which Still spent parts of his life painting, with really cute models (though they claimed to be volunteers) in ’50s airline stewardess costumes posted at the entrance to each new state.

The event was incredibly beautiful and incredibly exclusive, but TVD made it inside for Denver hometown heroes DeVotchKa, performing for that evening’s entertainment. Recently featured at the top of our Colorado’s Top 5 Bands, Devotchka is a gypsy punk pastiche of Spanish, Latin American, and Eastern European world music build atop modern rock arrangements, Grammy-nominated for the amazing soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine and with a new album 100 Lovers in stores everywhere as of this year.

I ran into frontman Nick Urata somewhere in the Colorado wing. He was easy to spot as he was the only one who looked like a dishevelled pirate lothario, and after I introduced myself and we had a brief exchange about vinyl, the current of black ties and cocktail dresses made their way toward a tube leading from the museum into an enormous tent structure buzzing with hors d’oeuvre trays and lit like a strip club. (I mean… like I imagine a strip club would be. Right.)

When it comes time to take the stage, DeVotchKa is right at home in hot pink floodlights, having had their start as the backing band for a Denver-based burlesque act. Urata walks to the center mic with an unopened bottle of the red wine I and the underage photographer I brought with me tried earlier. They open with “The Alley,” and the crowd draws tight around the little stage.

By the second song, an elder gentleman in a bow tie has begun two-stepping out onto the dancefloor as Urata alternates from guitar to vocals to theremin while Tom Hagerman charms an accordion. I notice DeVotchKa drummer Shawn King has in his hands the same drumsticks I use, from a local to Colorado company, if I recall. Jeanie Schroder, the smallest member of DeVotchKa, also happens to play the band’s biggest instruments, standing abreast of a sousaphone and beautiful double bass.

A few songs later, and I’m adding flautist to the list of Miss Schroder’s talents, while hordes of Clyfford Still connoisseurs, congressmen, and a handful of sauced-up stewardesses have by now begun cutting lines in the dance floor. About this time I’m realizing that these people, the majority of which, with the exception of the stewardesses, are twice my age, really know how to party.

About this time it also occurs to me, nobody ever sees DeVotchKa like this; this is a very personal show. It’s like seeing a DeVotchKa house show if you had a lot of well-dressed wealthy people at your house. The soundboard they’re being mixed on is nearly half as big as the stage, and I’m close enough to worry about getting sweat on the lens of my photographer’s camera, close enough to have impure thoughts about who I can only assume is Urata’s girlfriend dancing to the left of me, close enough to get this picture.

Urata’s guitar is hung around his neck by a length of seat-belt, and he’s wearing a jacket he tells me he got in some city he doesn’t remember. He ends with “The Enemy Guns,” the last song of the night, with that characteristic whistling chorus, but the woman to my left tugs on my arm and insists they’ll be back out. Urata has taken his wine with him, and I’m having doubts about her prediction, but then a minute later, telling the restless crowd they’re “not letting us off easy,” DeVotchKa is back onstage. With Hagerman soloing on accordion and Urata thrusting the neck of his guitar into the ray shield or energy beam or whatever it is you call the space around the theremin that activates that telltale sound, DeVothKa begins into “Contrabanda” and sets off a crowd that will be dancing for hours to come.

Photos by Jimmy Gable and Dan Mancini, SneakyBoy Studios

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