A handful of Colorado’s favorite sons (and daughter), DeVotchKa, took the stage tonight with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra for an immense evening of their mariachi-gypsy laced music made even bigger.
Tonight was an electric, flawless, intuitive pairing. Coupled with the ululating vibrato of Nick Urata, which is an instrument in itself, DeVotchKa writes complex, challenging songs that have been ripe for this sort of reinvention. Songs that are already brilliant to begin with shot into the sky tonight with a thousand colors.
It’s a brilliant phenomenon lately, some of my favorite musicians recording sessions with anything from small string quartets to the sixty-person symphony orchestra I saw tonight. As I sat damp-eyed during the final gorgeous explosion of “How It Ends,” I tried to put my finger on what exactly it is that these songs gain from going through the transformation from guy-on-a-guitar to full-blown-orchestra. Best I can articulate is that I feel like it has something to do with colors, and with size.
Hearing a pop musician play with a symphony makes their songs balloon into ten thousand gradations of hue where there once were five or six. It feels like a chorus of voices (instruments) all swelling with you to agree, yes, this is a terrific song and all eleven of us violins will speak with you on that — as will a half-dozen trumpets, and those plinky wood-box percussion things. It was deeply thrilling to hear these songs get so colossally huge, and tremendously more expressive. I found myself picturing stars coming out into the sky at night during “Dearly Departed” when all the string instruments began a complex plucking pattern, the song so immense that it transcended the hall we were in. It got at that effect I am always longing and looking for in music: an overpowering sense of the vast other, the cresting of the tidal wave, the moment when it knocks you down.
We don’t, as a young-people whole, go to see the Symphony much — at least, I know I don’t. I’m sure you’ve spent many times more money in the past year on live popular music than on the symphony or other forms of “high culture,” even the raddest former band-geeks among us. I wonder if more of these incredible pairings could help remind us all why we sometimes need to sit ourselves beneath the cerulean thunder of the waves of sound that sixty people can create.
I was also watching the joy radiating around the musicians in the symphony as they performed, and from the young ones to the rad ponytailed older dudes on percussion, there was a definite energy created by this merger of forces, and what it teased out of the crowd. I would absolutely love to see more nights like tonight; I think of recordings I cherish that have captured this sort of pairing (Augie March, Josh Ritter, Joe Pug) and then fantasize about ones that would probably kill me dead if I ever were to see them live with a symphony (The National, mostly). This is a good idea with only good effects, as we stretch our musical boundaries and conceptions.
Tonight left me breathless. Musicians, let’s do this again.