So for the second time this weekend I found myself out at a bar to listen to a batch of cover tunes.
The sultry Cristina — perhaps the only woman on the planet whose musical tastes jibe fairly closely with my own admittedly…esoteric leanings — filled me in on a live performance by a female-fronted Devo cover band called, appropriately enough, Deva at some bar called Crash Mansion on the Bowery, and I immediately declared my intention of attending with bells on. What more could a twenty-six-year diehard fan of the boys from Akron ask for?
I braved the twenty-some-odd degree weather and made my way via subway to the Lower East Side of Manhattan, once a much-frequented stomping ground during my early days in the Big Apple, and marveled at how much the area had changed in what seemed like the blink of an eye. The once unspeakably seedy Phebe’s had undergone an architectural facelift and now looked suitable for humans, something I never could have imagined back in the early 1990’s, and a part of me felt a wee bit sad to see the disease of Times Square-style prettification spreading to one of Manhattan’s last true outposts for reprobates and binge drinkers. Even the legendary CBGB’s, a historical landmark and gestation hive for the golden age of the NYC punk rock scene three decades ago, was now a lot spiffier, even to the point of having a somewhat upscale “gallery” that flogs merchandise — or as I call it, “crap” — emblazoned with the establishment’s famous logo, now inspiring no sense of musical discovery or interest and sadly lingering like the slowly fading tattoo on the sock-full-of-ballbearings titty of a long-in-the-tooth whore. Nope, it ain’t yer daddy’s Lower East Side no mo’.
I made my way past the usual assortment of derelicts hanging out in front of the local Salvation Army mission and finally located the venue, a place that intrigued me since the entrance lead to a space below street level. After shelling out the eight dollar cover I made my way into what strongly resembled Auric Goldfinger’s rec room; the shockingly new stacked stone/brick walls, low lights, plasma screens that showed the stage, and the huge, well-stocked bar all looked like they sprang straight from the imagination of production designer Ken Adam during his mid-1960’s prime, minus the signature sloping walls, and simply reeked of being far more upscale than what I was used to in the area. That gut feeling proved to be right on the money when I went into the Men’s Room.
The lavatory was pristine enough to allow one to perform the most delicate of brain surgeries on the tile floor, the stalls were spacious and not lacking for stuff with which to claw the doody from one’s ass, and there was even an attendant at the sink. The guy was black, so I used my rarely-played negro pass and told the guy in no uncertain terms that unless he was going to hold my dick while nature took its course there was absolutely no fucking way that I was going to pay for him to turn on the faucet, add soap and hand me a paper towel. He laughed at that and agreed, stating that he was amazed that people actually crossed his palm with coin for things that they had been accomplishing since they were in the early single digits. After we achieved this understanding, every time I went into the can thereafter he would nod at me and smile.
When I entered the main performance space I snagged a seat with a good view of the stage — which would later prove irrelevant — and ordered a beer (a $5.00 Budweiser, placing it in what I consider the expensive category since while Bud may be the purported King of Beers, it is notoriously cheap for good reason); eventually my friends would show up, but until then I guarded the table and its seats like a mother bear protecting her cubs. While the lights were still up I continued to make my way through the Mickey Spillane classic “I, The Jury,” wallowing in its sleazy pulp noir atmosphere that acted as a counter to the establishment’s “I have a trust fund” miasma. Then, just as Mike hammer was fucking the shit out of the nymphomaniac half of a pair of rich identical twins, the lights dimmed and the show commenced.
First on the bill was Randy Newton and Her Majic Men, a band who specialized in covering Heart’s “Dreamboat Annie” album, and thankfully none of their unlistenable 1980’s “comeback” bullshit. The singer was a very attractive blonde who blatantly pleaded with the audience to buy booze for herself and her band mates since they were all single, and then launched into thirty minutes of mediocre renditions of the Wilson sisters’ classics. The bassist was very good and flat out punished his instrument, however the guy not only resembled Jack Black, but he had also clearly watched the DVD of SCHOOL OF ROCK one time too many since his onstage antics aped the portly actor to an embarrassing degree, and whenever he bent over he unintentionally treated the audience to glimpses of his pasty buttcrack. The guitarist was a tall dork who admittedly could play, but he suffered from noodly, wannabe Ygwie Malmsteen fingering, which was wholly inappropriate for the material in question, and he even had the nerve to abruptly halt his six string jackoff fest and cup his ear toward the audience in a self serving and pitifully vain attempt to vamp the audience. During their heyday I was deeply enamored with Heart, or as I affectionately called them “Led Zepplin with more original musical ideas and really nice titties,” so I was probably judging this band a bit unfairly. Then again, maybe not, since I am in no way impressed by vocalists who think they can get by solely on their looks and mistake shrieking for singing, or by the spoiled brat/ please kick my ass monkeyshines of axe-slingers who are way too in love with themselves.
Next up was Baby Maiden, an Iron Maiden cover crew with a scrawny, near-Goth frontwoman on vocals, and they were not only a vast improvement over the previous band, but also an improvement over the actual Iron maiden itself, in my opinion. While I am an unashamed metalhead, I have to confess that Maiden never did much for me thanks to their irritating vocals, especially those of the eternally pretentious Bruce Dickinson, but hearing most of the “Number of the Beast” album performed by a woman who had a voice rich in both power and appeal made me seriously reevaluate the tunes found therein. Her renditions of the title track, “Run to the Hills,” and especially “Flight of Icarus” gave me douche-chills and made me sad that I couldn’t enjoy them again on a CD when I got home. Trust me, folks, if you get a chance to see Baby Maiden you will not be disappointed.
My friends Daniel and Susan showed up during BM’s set and we chatted while waiting for Deva to take the stage. Cristina eventually showed up after spending the previous few hours at her company’s belated office Christmas party, and she held her liquor like the party warrior that she is while looking cute as hell in a skirt that displayed her already enjoyable rear to spectacular effect…
But I digress.
Deva then trotted onstage and were by far the most visually bizarre act of the night; with the exception of the Booji Boy impersonator who wore the requisite mask and a cheesy sailor suit, all were clad in head-to-toe black gear with the word “Deva” skewed across their chests, replicating the Spudboys’ utilitarian t-shirt uniforms, accented with white Lone Ranger masks and gaucho hats. The singers were two female brunettes, one of whom towered over nearly everyone in the whole joint, and they performed an assortment of Devo classics culled from “Freedom of Choice” and “Devo’s Greatest Hits.” The set was fun for me simply because I love the material, but the vocals were delivered too mechanically to really engage the listener; most casual observers only know Devo from the videos for “Satisfaction” and “Whipit,” but the only one of those songs to feature robotic non-emoting is the former, and if one bothers to delve deeper into the Devo catalog they will find that the musically mechanical/minimalist stuff is almost exclusively restricted to their first album and that the vocals are quite expressive, if a bit on the cool and sardonic side. Deva stuck to the Robby the Robot delivery and it pretty much killed the exuberance found in the songs. That, and the lack of any real stage presence or schtick other than a couple of broads standing around acting like uninspired audioanimatronic manikins.
Despite what may seem to be harsh criticisms, I enjoyed Deva’s set, as did the audience, many of whom drunkenly thrashed about on the dance floor, transported by the strains of white boy dorkdom’s most snarky musical offenders. I signed up on the band’s mailing list and look forward to future shows, by which time Deva will have hopefully learned to generate some palpable stage presence. Face it, if you’re gonna get up on stage and purport to rock, THEN FUCKING ROCK! Goofy costumes and someone else’s music ain’t gonna cut it forever, so they should at least make it as much balls out fun as they can while this lasts. Aah, what am I bitching about? The shit was fun.