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Jim White and Devotchka

To complete frabjousdave's sendoff, a crowd of the usual suspects went for dinner at Hale's, and then the hard core went to the Tractor Tavern to hear Jim White play, with Devotchka as the opener. Those who bailed early missed a hell of a fine show.

Jim White is a freaking national treasure. I completely fail to understand why he isn't already huge. If you appreciate American music you owe it to yourself to pick up either "No Such Place" or "Drill Through This Substrate and Tell Me What You See", his best albums. In fact, I insist you support the guy. frabjousdave has spent a year raving about White, and I'm totally a convert.

What is so great about Jim White? His work is derived from a long tradition and updated with technology that always supports the sound rather than getting in the way. Imagine fusing together BB King's soul and guitar blues, ZZ Top's strut and slide guitar, Willie Nelson's smartass attitude, and Steve Albini's drummer (the well-regarded Mr. Casio). White is also working in the tradition of the one-man band, using guitar pedals and a clever soundman to loop himself onto backing vocals and to accompany himself on the guitar. Lyrically, he's just off the charts, as you might suspect given song titles such as "What If Jesus Drove a Motor Home?". He sings about the South (he's from Florida), but with the sharp eye of a man who's too smart too be hustled by the evangelicals. Yes, he's a heretic, and we love him for that.

It was just a fine, fine show by someone who is still humble enough to be surprised to see an audience show up.

Devotchka (Russian, n., lit. "girl") is a ridiculously talented but unsigned four-piece combo with a blazing live act. They play theremin (!), balalaika, sousaphone, accordion, fiddle, standing bass, acoustic guitar, trumpet, drums, and, oh yeah, they sing. Tom Hagerman, their well-nigh-demonic violinist was clearly the Gypsy King in a past life, and he would probably be worshipped as a god in the Balkans. It's different here, of course. To get respect in the States when you play electric violin and accordion, you either have to blind people with your ability, or carry a firearm. To the best of my knowledge, Hagerman was unarmed last night, but he got lots of respect.

These guys all got beat up a lot in elementary school, but we all gain from their suffering for their art. If you love Nick Cave but wish he would scream or croon his anguish to a somewhat faster beat, or you appreciate the Gipsy Kings guitar but wish they sang more blood-soaked, lovelorn material in English, Devotchka is the band for you. If you loved the Violent Femmes back in the day, they've got that punky, fuck-them-if-they-can't-take-a-joke attitude in their stage bits. Their idea of a great cover song is the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs" reinvented as a heavy rhythm mash-up complete with a banana-shaped maraca.

They have seven free tracks available as MP3s at www.devotchka.net. They are much better live than recorded. We're lucky to have them.


( 3 sutras — Your wisdom )
Sep. 29th, 2004 11:30 am (UTC)
Thank you! Writing about music is one of my many weak spots, so "What he said."
Oct. 1st, 2004 07:33 am (UTC)
I'm sold after that pitch. I'll grab a Jim White album and let you know.

And as for Devotchka: A theremin! Gort would be proud. Klaatu, verata, nictu, by God.
Oct. 1st, 2004 09:46 am (UTC)
Re: Musack
Yeah, they just used the theremin for flavor rather than as a core instrument, but everything I hear about it says it's a bitch to play properly. Given how rare the instrument is, I just felt lucky to see one at all. I really wasn't expecting to ever see one at a live show.
( 3 sutras — Your wisdom )

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