07 December 2006

I Already Know How It Ends

Last night's My Brightest Diamond/DeVotchKa show practically demanded that I brave the sub-freezing temps and make the drive up Parley's Canyon to Suede in Park City. Well, it didn't hurt that Dainon offered his "plus one" ticket guaranteed by some (unforeseeably untrustworthy) publicist. Turns out we didn't make the list and had to pay $10/each to enter — a discounted admission, but still...

You can read all about Shara Worden and My Brightest Diamond all over bloglandia on sites far more interesting and insightful than this one, so I'll only add a few thoughts:

1) Her voice is virtually unmatched in pop/rock music. She handles vocal acrobatics as if they were warm-up drills. Runs and reaches that would have lesser singers doubled over barely even seem to raise her eyebrows. As D remarked after her stunning cover of Tainted Love: I think I could listen to her sing anything, anything at all, and I would love it.

2) While she has been compared to every dramatic female vocalist under the sun (PJ Harvey, Bjork, Beth Gibbons, Kate Bush, etc.), there is one (dead-on) comparison I've yet to hear: Andrea Echeverri from the outstanding Colombian two-piece, Aterciopelados.

3) I have developed a minimally-physical, full-blown artistic crush on Shara Worden. I'll save the full breakdown of crush varieties for another day, but every time I have seen Shara (twice backing Sufjan Stevens and now once on her own) she has increasingly caught my eye. All I can say is that I'm attracted to her art. I know there's something weird (and awfully emo-pathetic) about that statement and each time I read it, it only gets worse. I'm sorry.

The crowd at Suede was certainly diverse (D says it's always that way) but at least they were united in ignorant impoliteness. I will never understand how a crowd can consistently yap through a set as haunting and beautiful as that played by Worden and her bandmates. I suppose that's their choice, right? But if you paid money to see a painter paint, would you walk up and scribble on the corners of her canvas? I see no difference in talking throughout a musical performance. I've exposed my "shut-up-at-concerts" bias. I understand if you will now discredit me. I am prepared for the fall in the polls.

The voice:
Golden Star - My Brightest Diamond - m4a

After My Brightest Diamond left the stage, D and I listened to a few tipsy hippies try to describe the music of DeVotchKa – always an entertaining endeavor. "Ummm... it's like... Eastern European polka... with Tex-Mex horns... and a tuba or something... and sometimes the guy sings in Spanish." And there's nothing better than hearing a pseudo-hipster impress his mindless companions with the knowledge that DeVotchKa (hailing from the greater Denver area, mostly) are from the former Yugoslavia. Good stuff. And, while D tried to convince me that the man playing violin was actually Yo-Yo Ma, I settled in for a healthy dose of European Tex-Mex Polka.

DeVotchKa does not disappoint. If you've listened to even a handful of tracks, you know to expect grieving vocals and throbbing accordions, maracas and flamenco guitars. Theirs is a blend of sounds quite unlike anything I've heard. They walk the same path as Calexico... but in a completely alternate landscape. The songs are sad, beyond sad, and you can't help but wonder where all this pain is coming from. I hesitate to say it, but the vocals even verge on Mexican ranchera music, the strained music full of howls and yips heard blaring from corner cantinas.

(picture stolen from Pitchfork)

What elevates DeVotchKa, however, are the moments of lightness, the spots of sunlight that filter through the pained melodies. And when DeVotchKa played their most recognizable song to date, How It Ends (featured in the movie trailer for Everything Is Illuminated), it was the hint of optimism – however small and however disguised – that lifted the audience from their drinks and even managed to silence the talkers. How It Ends is a rare song. It seems that even devoted, long-time fans of DeVotchKa (who would normally disregard this song because of its mainstream appeal and popularity) seem to know that it is a great song, the kind of song that truly transcends (what a word...) genres and classifications.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: Since last night's show, my iTunes shows that I've listened to How It Ends five times and I could go for another five right now.

Because of the late start – DeVotchKa didn't take the stage until 11:15 or so – we left just before the end of the set. But it was a satisfied early exit. Very satisfied.

How It Ends - DeVotchKa - mp3

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