Psychedelic rock power trio Devi played Bowery Electric a couple of nights ago. The band sets frontwoman Debra Devi’s casually alluring vocals and suspensefully crescendoing guitar solos over Dan Grennes’ sinewy, melodic bass and John Hummel’s artsy, eclectically ornate, hard-hitting drums (more about those in a bit); Brian Hudzik guested on Rhodes early in the show as well. The set included a handful of new songs – the catchy Butterfly, the explosive Riot Love Song and the downright sexy, Led Zep-fueled, riff-rocking Tired of Waiting – along with several powerpop crowd-pleasers. The second song, Another Day had a familiar, singalong feel, particularly as the chorus kicked in, a formula that reached critical mass on the wickedly anthemic Howl at the Moon. But this band’s songs go a lot further than just catchy verses building to a payoff on the chorus: the title track to their album Get Free had a slow, elegaic quality, as did the album’s best song, the absolutely haunting Welcome to the Boneyard, with its layers of jangly, watery guitar and its sad, resigned lyric told from the point of view of a ghost in the rubble at Ground Zero in the days after 9/11. C21H23NO3 gave the band a crescendoing springboard for wild, unhinged soloing and an unpredictable, practically hardcore doublespeed interlude, while the pensive, moody When It Comes Down was a showstopper, its centerpiece being a long guitar solo that moved from suspensefully sustained, to spiraling and bluesy, back and forth, alternately mystical and exhilarating.
Now if you’ve been paying close attention, you’ve noticed that this whole thing so far has been a description of individual songs rather than an account of how the band onstage actually played them. That’s because the prettyboy behind the sound board sabotaged them. He started by turning up the drums to the point where they drowned out pretty much everything else, which wasn’t an easy thing to do, considering that Devi was running her guitar through a big 4X12 Marshall cabinet. For a minute it was kind of cool to get a high-volume education in how Hummel develops a song, starting with a simple, muted rimshot-and-kick backbeat and building to a murderous frenzy of polyrhythms like a brontosaurus wrestling with a sea serpent. But nobody in the crowd came out for just the drums. What made it even worse is that Bowery Electric is a pretty small room where drums don’t need much if any amplification. And it wasn’t that soundboy wasn’t paying attention, either: whenever Devi hit one of her effects pedals, he turned her guitar DOWN. It would have been nice not to have to watch her fingers to get a sense of what she was playing. Does this twerp have something against bands fronted by attractive women? Does he prefer bands fronted by boys instead? Maybe – he has a Ryan Seacrest kind of look. Whatever the case, he ruined what could have been be a great show – if the sound is this bad every night at Bowery Electric, it’s a place to avoid.