By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
BOULDER, COLORADO (ANS – October 24, 2017) — I’ve always been fascinated by styles of music that spring up in various regions around the United States. Easy regions to categorize are the South (Blues), New York (avant-garde jazz), Los Angeles (hard rock and metal), the Pacific Northwest (Grunge), and Texas (alternative country).
One region that has gone underappreciated, however, is the mountain region. And though not as easy to categorize, one could categorize the sound as eclectic, with elements from a variety of styles integrated into a comprehensive whole. I supposed one name often used is Indie. Another title tossed around is Americana. Both are close, but don’t quite summarize the sound. Maybe world-music inspired rock would be a better description. Suffice to say, the mountain region style is hard to define.
Even with a hard to define sound, several notable mountain-region bands have made a big impact over the past few years: Beirut (New Mexico), The Shins (New Mexico), and The Lumineers (Colorado). And from a historical vantage point, one musician stands as the progenitor of the region’s musical voice — David Eugene Edwards of 16 Horsepower and Wovenhand (Colorado).
But if one were to categorize the eclectic sound of the mountain region into one band (other than Beirut), the group would have to be DeVotchKa, the most prominent band to popularize the mountain region sound, largely through movies (Little Miss Sunshine) and TV shows (Everwood).
For those not familiar with DeVotchKa, a quick word is in store. DeVotchKa is a four-piece rock band from the Denver/Boulder area of Colorado. The name DeVotchKa is taken from the Russian word devochka, meaning “girl.” But to strictly qualify them as a rock band may be a little misleading. As multi-instrumentalists, the four member of the band — Nick Urata, (lead singer, theremin, guitar, bouzouki, piano, and trumpet), Tom Hagerman (violin, accordion, and piano), Jeanie Schroder (sousaphone, double bass, and flute), and Shawn King (drums, percussion and trumpet) — create music that transcends the confines of — drums, guitar, bass, and vocal — rock music. The four musicians are a small orchestra of talent.
Jim Sullivan of the Christian Science Monitor described DeVotchKa’s sound as “rooted in rock but the music features tuba, glockenspiel, theremin, sousaphone, and the long-necked Greek stringed instrument called a bouzouki – think a mash-up of Eastern European folk, mariachi, and punk.”
That’s as good of summary of the mountain region sound I’ve heard: a “mash-up” of styles. For more information on DeVotchKa’s “mash-up” there’s lots of places on the Internet that recounts their beginning as a touring band for a burlesque troupe to their rise to prominence through movie soundtracks. I won’t get in to the history here . What I do know is that I’ve wanted to see DeVotchKa live for some time.
So upon a recent trip to Colorado I was able to experience DeVotchKa’s “mash-up” in person at the Boulder Theater. To say the least, it was a treat. I won’t go into all the details of the concert — other than it was an amazing confluence of their albums with two new songs from their forthcoming album tossed in to tease. To say the least I was impressed and entertained from the opening chords to the encore.
What struck me, however, during the concert were not only the splendid showmanship — which there was (including acrobats and additional musicians), but also some of the spiritual allusions found in some of the lyrics. Take for instance the opening line of the hit song “This is How It Ends”
Hold your grandmother’s Bible to your breast
Gonna put it to the test
You wanted it to be blessed
And in your heart
You know it to be true
You know what you got to do
They all depend on you
Though elusive, the song appears to be about either a break up or death. In either case, the character in the song is holding a Bible to be “put to the test,” knowing “it to be true.”
And in another song, “Twenty-Six Temptations,” the song is about evil in the world—from violence to false religion. In the last verse, however, there is a sense of justice: “And they think no one is watching but the true Lord sees all.”
In many other songs there is a longing for love (You Love Me), for justice (The Last Beat of My Heart), and gratitude (Blessing in Disguise). In the last song, the lyrics read:
O my Lord, O my God
I finally see what’s going on
I count the fingers that you made me
Am I squandering the life you gave me
Blessing in Disguise reads like a prayer .
Now hear me out: I’m not saying that DeVotchKa is a Christian — or any other religious — band. What I am saying is that like all great music, their songs touch on elements of what it means to be human: love, loss, hope, death, temptation, hate, and faith.
And like great works of poetry or literature, highlighting the marks of our humanity brings a certain companionship to our common pursuits as human beings, an ache for life and love. And from a Christian standpoint, we know this ache has been placed in our heart to be fulfilled, ultimately, with God in Christ.
So though I don’t subscribe to all the sentiments carried by popular bands, I do appreciate that they — sometimes better than religious folks — help us see our humanity in broader Biblical forms than most. And DeVotchKa is one of those bands.
Photo captions: 1) Nick Urata at the Boulder Theater. 2) DeVotchKa. 3) Another picture of the band. 4) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, artist, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA), Veritas Evangelical Seminary (MA), and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon
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