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Wednesday, July 02, 2008


The unmitigated glory of Devo.

With less than twenty-four hours until I turned forty-three, my buddy G-Man and I attended the Brooklyn stop on Devo’s current tour and we were not disappointed in the least. One thing that I’ve learned in the many years since attending my very first Devo show back in 1982 — the “Oh, No! It’s Devo” tour — is that the band always gives 100% when they perform, electrifying the audience and surprising those new to what they do, something that never fails to impress me since they are certainly no longer spring chickens by any stretch of the imagination (band co-founder Gerry Casale turns sixty at the end of this month, while front man Mark Mothersbaugh, the dork with the glasses, is currently fifty-eight).

What truly gets me about all of this is Devo’s influence on music and other areas of the arts since first rearing its devolved head in the early 1970’s (some say they formed in 1972, but accounts vary), something I have witnessed occurring since first seeing them perform on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE nearly thirty years ago (October 14th, 1978, to be precise), and their impact cannot be denied. Thirty years ago SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE was a place that showcased musical acts that the general public had never heard of — a far cry from the corporate hit parade it became, yet another case of something kissing the ass it used to kick — and through that weekly dose of stoner humor and such I was exposed to several of my favorite bands and performers such as the Pretenders, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, the pre-“Burning Down the House” Talking Heads, and many others, but Devo’s from out of nowhere blast of balls-out intriguing and aggressive strangeness totally kicked me in the head and actually made me exclaim aloud “What the fuck is this?!!!?” The kids who saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show cite that moment as a major turning point in their lives, and I can honestly say that Devo’s renditions of “Satisfaction” and “Jocko Homo” had exactly the same impact on me, opening my mind to the absurdity possible in music as well as giving a brainy kid a group that was very much pro-intelligence and anti-stupidity. Devo gave us nerds/geeks a voice within the arena of rock ‘n’ roll, and while they may not have been as handsome and flashy as the usually nauseating cock-rockers of the day, they staunchly held their ground as proud outsiders and weirdoes, always touting their philosophy of de-evolution and how man is his own worst enemy, and, sadly, many of their theories have proven to be all too accurate. Their songs examined human stupidity, sexual yearnings and insecurities, science and politics run amok, as well as experimenting with deconstructing rock as a genre and crafting dance music that makes the listener think while simultaneously boogieing their ass off, and that, to me anyway, is the mark of a band worth paying attention to.

This latest live appearance at Brooklyn’s McCarren Park Pool saw the tri-state area’s faithful spudboys and girls representing en masse and filling the empty community swimming pool’s empty expanse with many an Energy Dome-topped head in evidence.

The pool was built back in 1936 as a community place in which to cool off during NYC’s sweltering summers, but it was later decommissioned and given new life as an outdoor concert venue.

Some views of the McCarren Park Pool.

I loved it for the acoustics and the fact that the place allowed the crowd to contract and expand as necessary, thereby eliminating much of the sometimes claustrophobic environment found at many indoor venues, and I would love to see another show there.

A decommissioned diving board.

Before the musicians took the stage, some oddball deejay that looked like a live-action version of Comic Book Guy from THE SIMPSONS exhorted the crowd to do a series of stretching exercises and run in circles like they were a bunch of nursery-schoolers, then had them form a human tunnel before he cut loose on the wheels of steel, letting loose with what could kindly be described as generic white boy beats that the undiscriminating danced to in spite of the rampaging mediocrity.

M.C. Comic Book Guy: "Worst. Deejay. Ever!"

M.C. Comic Book Guy on the wheels of steel: Grandmaster Flash had nothing to worry about.

Stretching exercises.

Running in circles for no apparent reason.

Human tunnel: why???

During that mess I wandered about, merrily snapping shots of tattooed concertgoers and assorted music fans, all happy to get a chance to see Devo.

Regarding Devo: ain't it the truth!

My former-across-the-hall-neighbor, Tim Holden, and his wife, Liz. Tim and I met shortly after he moved into the apartment across from the Vault and I heard him playing Devo's "Snowball" on his sound system. I introduced myself, discovered a fellow Devo hardcore, and a friendship was born. He's also the genius behind the greatest macaroni and cheese you will ever eat .

No relation to Devo, but I love the gag. (HINT: that's Galactus' head)

A second-generation New Traditionalist.

Girls who get the whole Devo thing are a treasure, and this lady rocked a custom pink reflective Energy Dome with red Energy Dome earrings, accenting the ensemble with a shirt that cribs its gag from the lyrics to "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA." And they call me geeky! Rock on, spudgirl!

I was especially pleased to see many parents who were about my age taking their kids to see the show, an act of shared intergenerational coolness that filled me with great warmth.

The holy trinity — Blondie, the Damned, and Devo — gets represented. The only way this shot could be any better is if there was a grandma in a wheelchair rocking a Misfits shirt.

And the icing on that cake was running into an old friend, namely Paul Cahill, a fellow Connecticut loon whom I’ve known for about twenty-three years and had not seen since Jewish Warrior Princess’ wedding some ten years ago.

After the initial shock wore off, we exchanged info and plan to keep in touch.

Mutual friend and fellow music-obsessive Raju, with Paul.

It was at about this time when I discovered that the heat and humidity had teamed up to allow my 'fro to take the form of the Energy Dome I was wearing, an effect that delighted onlookers and photographers when I doffed the helmet to cool off.

How an Energy Dome affects an Afro: Step 1.

How an Energy Dome affects an Afro: Step 2.

Back from the dead: the Tom Tom Club.

The opening act was the Tom Tom Club, the sort-of-offshoot from the Talking Heads fronted by uber-bassist Tina Weymouth (SEE BELOW)

and her kickass drummer hubby Chris Frantz (SEE BELOW)

(both Heads alums), and while I like a handful of their tunes their first two albums contained far more filler than real meat, but the good stuff to be had is indeed classic stuff. Ass-shaking gem “Genius of Love” and the silly-but-funky “Wordy Rappinghood” were met with palpable audience appreciation and the sweaty throng responded by dancing as if possessed by some visiting Loa.

A version of the Talking Heads' cover of "Take Me To the River" was also received with much enthusiasm.

The other classic Tom Tom Club tune, “The Man With the Four-Way Hips,” put in an appearance, but it lacked much effect because it was performed in a version that was so slowed down it brought to mind a rendition performed by musicians loaded on a fistful of sedatives.

Tina lays it down.

Nonetheless it was great to see the TTC back in action, even if only two of the original members remained, and I have to give a shout-out to Tina and Chris, both regular attendees during my days working at my hometown’s Fine Arts 1 & 2 movie theater and very, very nice people in person. I used to chat with Tina whenever she came in, and she once even signed my sketchbook, telling me not worry about being stuck in Westport for much longer and to have faith in my brains and ability to get “unstuck,” and it turns out that she was right.

Do I love Tina Weymouth? More than just a little, let me tell you.

After a forty-minute break in order to set up the headliners' equipment, the lights dimmed and the screen at the back of the stage lit up with the image of General Boy and his introductory short film on proper dress and behavior for a Devo concert, a piece of multi-media looniness that's been a fixture of many Devo tours since 1981's "New Traditionalists" campaign.

General Boy addresses the troops.

Then Devo took the stage, opening as they often do with a rollicking version of "That's Good" that had the crowd rocking out in seconds.

Devo takes the stage: "That's good!"

The crowd rocks out.

Raju unlocks the secret voice.

As per usual, the crowd was composed of people from all corners of rock fandom including Mohawked punks, metal-studded leatherboys, latter day new-wavers, and more, and of course I got stuck right next an enthusiastic and very loud Greepoint Guido. The guy knew his Devo inside and out but was clearly bombed, and some of his deathless comments included, "Fuckin' Devo is my fuckin' favorite fuckin' band," and "My fuckin' favorite fuckin' Devo song is fuckin' 'Da Day My fuckin' Baby Gave Me A fuckin' Surprise!" And when Gerry worked out on the Korg synthesizer, the wasted Guido helpfully offered to his fellow Italian, "Hey, Gerry! Lay offa da donuts, ya fat fuck!!!"

Gerry Casale: the "fat fuck" in question.

Not exactly something I'd say to a person whom I profess to admire, but maybe the guy was just "busting balls."

Undeterred by the antics of the drunken lout the spudboys delighted the crowd with pretty much the same "greatest hits" set they'd toured around with for the past few years, and they fired on all cylinders with Mark's voice of weary-yet-wise reason in a mad world speaking to an audience that was mostly comprised of people who were still swimming around in their daddy's balls when "Whipit" was still in the charts.

Mark Mothersbaugh: these days he may do the music for cartoons like RUGRATS and SHAGGY & SCOOBY-DOO GET A CLUE, but he's lost none of his snarky, satirical edge.

One of my favorite moments in any Devo show is when grossly-underrated guitar badass Bob 1 gets his time before the mic, especially when drawling out the band's excellent, devolved cover of Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man," a version that, in my humble opinion, blows the original out of the water, and I like the original a lot.

Bob 1 makes with "Secret Agent Man": "I got an afternoon pass... I don't get up off my ass!!!"Mark, proving that the Devo jumpsuit tends not to allow one's farts to ventilate.

The so-called "fat fuck" lays down some bottom.

Gerry again, scanning the wings for his order of Kentucky Fried Chicken (I kid! I kid!)

Has the Mothership landed? Nah, it's just the boys from Akron.

Mark Mothersbaugh: dork god.

While the casual Devo observer might expect "Whipit" to be the song that causes the crowd to explode, they would be shocked to discover that that honor belongs to the much-lesser-known "Uncontrollable Urge," a strong contender for the title of the band's hardest-rocking piece — especially when experienced live — and a song that even those who usually pooh-pooh the band's material respond to like they'd just been on the receiving end of a jalapeƱo enema, so when Mark announced its arrival with the famous opening of "Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahyeahYEAH!!!" the place went motherfucking apeshit.

"Uncontrollable Urge": if you aren't moving to this one, look for a toe tag.

As the show entered its final third, the boys stripped down to the more comfortable t-shirts and shorts found beneath their jumpsuits and ran around like men half their ages.

But all too soon the show came to an end, signaled by the "Devo Corporate Anthem" coming on the video screen, its semi-imperialist cadence evoking a futurist/robotic inspirational mood.

The "Devo Corporate Anthem," or "That's all, folks!"

But as anyone who's been to a rock show in the past fifty years will tell you, it's wise to stick around because there's nearly always an encore tune or two, and after a brief exit the boys once more took the stage and quite appropriately let loose "Freedom of Choice," a timeless reminder to get off you lazy, mutated ass and vote when the time comes, and the quintessential "I'm completely fucking through with you and your bullshit" breakup song, "Gut Feeling/Slap Your Mammy." It totally rocked but apparently the McCarren Park Pool is one of those venues that idiotically demands a show shut down by 10PM no matter what, so even though Booji Boy came out, as per tradition, he did nothing other than bid us good night.

Poor ol' Booji Boy: thwarted by the venue's policies.

Clocking in at just over an hour, this was by far the shortest set I ever saw Devo play (I think the Tom Tom Club ran longer than anticipated), but it was still a hell of a good time and the perfect way for the newcomers in the crowd to experiece the band that is perhaps most synonymous with what was once called "new wave." But I must admit to being disappointed by the lack of social commentary and general bitching about their career and American politics that Mark and Gerry usually get up to when performing, and was especially shocked that they made no mention whatsoever of their lawsuit against the douchebags of McDonald's. That, however, is a minor quibble and Devo remains my all-time favorite band; not just a good band, but a great band, and I intend to see them as often as possible until they inevitably surrender to the rigors of aging and call it quits. Hopefully that sad day is still a long way off.

Devo: better than the Beatles? Use your freedom of choice!


Anonymous said...

I too saw them on SNL when i was probably 10 years old. up until that point the wildest thing i was exposed to was my mom's simon and garfunkle album or mabye john denver.

i really dont want to think about what i would be today with the intervention of DEVO

they didnt just teach me that being different was ok.. they made that it was everyone else who was weird

Anonymous said...

This was awesome. Check YouTube to see alot of vid at the concert.

Bob Byrne said...

Man that post was longer than a DEVO gig. Saw them last year in Dublin, just to see Bob 1's scrunched up guitar faces was worth the price of admission alone.