What Andrew Bird did for classically trained violinists, DeVotchKa's Jeanie Schroder has accomplished for sousaphone players: You, too, can be a rock star!
Schroder's tuba was festooned with blue lights at Friday's performance, and her dancing with it heightened the lights' effect. But as part of the 360-degree experience provided by the band's light show (who knew the Rialto's lights could do all that?), the twinkling tuba was a mere accent.
Visual excitement has amped up DeVotchKa's music since its early days as the orchestra for a Denver burlesque revival that evolved into a traveling troupe. They set the theatrics aside, though, while touring behind their 2004 release, How It Ends, as an opening act for the likes of Calexico and Flogging Molly.
DeVotchKa made a lot of fans on those tours, and it didn't hurt that their soundtrack to Little Miss Sunshine was nominated for an Oscar. These days, the band is headlining at houses like the Rialto, packed with 750 or more. And they're pulling out all the stops: The set opened in a smoky haze and closed with aerial artist Alexandra dancing acrobatically with banners suspended from the stage ceiling as the band played "C'est Ce La."
Vocalist, guitarist and theremin player Nick Urata contributed some visual pizzazz of his own with a regimental coat of indeterminate history or nationality. The enigma of the coat could be a metaphor for the band's music. Were their punk spirit less pronounced, or their melodrama less hip, DeVotchKa might have languished under a "world music" label. But that genre also implies limits to its fusions; DeVotchKa's fusions of gypsy/Italian/mariachi/polka/rock/cabaret/circus are aggressively limitless, even within songs.
Friday's set left none of the DeVotchKa catalog untouched. A highlight was Lou Reed's "Venus in Furs," from the mostly covers EP Curse Your Little Heart. The Tucson audience found a familiar flavor in the Calexico-esque selections from How It Ends, produced in Tucson by Craig Schumacher at Wavelab. Schumacher also produced the band's 2008 A Mad and Faithful Telling, so the band has many friends by now in the Old Pueblo.
Shawn King, percussionist and trumpet player, and Tom Hagerman, violin and accordion, rounded out the quartet onstage, but Justin Basch should be considered part of the band: He played the Rialto's lights like a virtuoso.