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Tuesday, November 24, 2009


Yer Bunche, representing for the hopelessly Devoted.

So Devo — the greatest band in the known universe, next to the Beatles and the Cramps — were in town for two nights doing shows at the Fillmore this past weekend and since they have never done a two-night stint in the city since I've been old enough to see them, I figured I would treat myself to both evenings and soak up as much devolved energy as humanly possible. With that in mind I readied myself for a Friday and Saturday of wallowing in back-to-back kickass rock shows, but what I ended up with turned out to be rather...unexpected.

The Friday night show was to be a performance of the band's first album, 1978's Q: ARE WE NOT MEN? A: WE ARE DEVO!, a classic work that rocks hard enough on its own, but that really blows one away when experienced live. My trip to the U.K. in May was to see them perform the first album as part of a special series of concerts in which bands of the late-1970's/early-1980's did whole albums live, and Devo's performance at Kentish Town's The Forum was hands-down the best of the many Devo shows I've attended since the Fall of 1982, so I was psyched like a sumbitch.

Once again joining me on my pilgrimage to de-evolution was my sultry and tattooed fellow music/outre culture enthusiast Xtina, and as always she was a pleasure to hang out with.

The sultry Xtina, bathed in crimson.

As per usual at a show, Xtina and I made the rounds to get the lay of the land and locate the bar. The merch prices were pretty steep (as much as $30 for the "Are We Not Men"-themed tour shirt) but they did have some interesting items, including the albums in question on vinyl ($20 apiece) and a really nice windbreaker with the Mr. DNA emblem hugely emblazoned on the back ($40; I debated snagging one of those). And at the bar the drinks prices were madness. You know those 24-ounce red cans of Bud that can be found at any bodega for $1.75? Those were going for twelve bucks apiece. Xtina was outraged at the steep price tags on everything, especially the merchandise, and declared everyone involved in the gouging to be "a pack of fucking thieves."

Incredible audience energy abounded and many of the fans (such as Yer Bunche) turned out in Energy Domes, the band's signature headgear, and occasionally in the full-blown yellow utility uniform.

A loyal spudboy rocks the Energy Dome.

A dedicated spudgirl represents. NOTE: believe it or not, chicks really dig Devo, so this is the show to go to if you wanna make a hookup.

Unfortunately for the audience the opening act was this mess called JP Incorporated, which was some guy in a fake beard who claimed to be the CEO of a new TV network and "entertained" us by singing us the allegedly funny and satirical theme songs to some of the network's programs, accompanied by corresponding images on the multi-media screen.

The horror of JP Incorporated.

Among other ersatz TV shows were "Jazzbot Xtreme" (about a monster truck that transforms into a 'jazz machine' that sprouts saxophones and spews fire), "Gymnastics Dad," "Action News," "Billie Hardwood: Female Basketball Coach" and other un-amusing non-concepts. The stupidest moment of the entire JP Incorporated set: the promo for "Lieutenant Custard and His Banger of Time," a series chronicling the adventures of a British military officer who travels through time on an English sausage.

Yeah, I know. I didn't laugh either.

The promo for the fictitious "Crap Factory." That title pretty much sums up the JP Incorporated experience.

Clearly trying to work from Devo's skewed video example and failing spectacularly, JP Incorporated was neither funny nor entertaining and it just went on and on despite the very vocal protests of the audience during its nearly half-hour duration (that felt like two hours). When it was finally over the dude in the phony beard and wig claimed his show was funded by Comedy Central, leading one audience member to state while imitating the guy's voice, "They wouldn't hook me up with money for a real pilot, so this was the best I could do." I can't believe the guy actually had a CD for sale, and I would have skipped the opening act entirely on the second night if it weren't simply so bad that my friends who would be there twenty-four hours hence would have to see it to believe it.

Once the fallout cleared, the familiar video of Devo's skewed take on Johnny Rivers' "Secret Agent Man" flickered to life on the same screen that had been violated by JP Incorporated, and all was once more right in the world.

The classic "Secret Agent Man" video.

Next up, as per Devo show custom, was the video for "Jocko Homo," a short film that was actually run during a class I took in college, and before it started the teacher allowed us a brief break and reminded us before we returned to the auditorium, "If ya got 'em, smoke 'em!"

Always a welcome sight at a Devo show: the famous "Jocko Homo" video that serves as part of the band's intro.

Mutants writhe in body-sized condoms during the "Jocko Homo" film.

Following that came "The Truth About De-Evolution," a short familiar to all fans who saw Devo's legendary appearance on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE back in 1978.
Booji Boy presents General Boy with important papers outlining the state of humanity in "The Truth About De-Evolution."

General Boy: "Now every man, woman and mutant on this planet shall know the truth about de-evolution!"
And then it was showtime!

When this logo appears, it's only seconds until the boys arrive.

The best thing ever to come out of Akron, Ohio took to the stage with "Uncontrollable Urge" and rocked like a motherfucker.

The crowd throbbed, the floor shook, and the de-evolved energy electrified the house.

Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh has an uncontrollable urge and he's gonna tell you all about it!

Gerry Casale: bassist, composer, and the creator of Devo.

Mark makes with the rah-rah during "Mongoloid."

Mark experiences some hair issues.

How did a Mercyful Fate fan get in here?

Bob Mothersbaugh, looking like he's holding in a fierce burrito fart.

Bob croons "Secret Agent Man."

"My mama's afraid to tell me the things she's afraid of": Mark gets jittery with "Too Much Paranoias."

The infamous out of tune "Too Much Paranoias" guitar solo.

Mark pontificates.

Passin' a spud.

As mighty as the heroes of yore: the uncontested geek-majesty of Gerry Casale and Mark Mothersbaugh.

The show rocked loud and hard, and the band treated the audience to two kickass encores, bringing in their full performance at about ninety minutes (give or take). Second only to their exceptional London show in May, this was hands-down the finest live Devo performance I've ever had the pleasure to attend. Simply put, the boys were simply exceptional. Just plain excellent. Well done, guys. There's a reason I've stuck by you since 1978!

Then came Saturday night's show and I wish I'd brought a fucking flask...

Saturday night: a twenty-seven-year-old self-professed "fan since in utero" represents.

Xtina didn't go for the Saturday night show, but myself, Suzi and my old friend Chris Gazelli spent the first portion of the evening over a meal at Crif Dogs and then over a few rounds at Otto's Shrunken Head, after which we hit the show.

The same opening act from the previous night stunk up the place again, only this time with far more open hostility hurled from the audience (Suzi loudly screaming "Get the fuck off the stage!" without a trace of mirth was charming, to say the least).

Chris and Suzi, deep in the throes of JP Incorporated-induced agony.

Yes, I endured that "performance comedy" torment two nights in a row! When not yelling "Get the fuck off the stage," poor Suzi passed the time by bashing her skull into my back. Chris merely stood his ground, transfixing me with an angry, smoldering stare as he fumed and questioned maintaining our friendship of twenty-eight years.

Some introductory video tomfoolery: "Freedom of Choice."

The full-album performance of FREEDOM OF CHOICE (1980) kicks off with the ever-popular "Girluwant."

The crowd goes wild.

Gerry lays down some de-evolved bottom.

"Look at you with your mouth watering! Look at you with your mind spinning! Why don't we just admit it's all over? She's just the girluwant!"

Bob Mothersbaugh: one of rock's most unfairly underrated and under-appreciated guitar-slingers. His work on the first album's "Gut Feeling" is simply transcendent.

Josh Freese, the band's superhuman drummer.

Gerry belts out "Ton O' Luv."

Putting a somewhat modern twist on an old standby, Bojji Boy is re-invented in hip-hop track suit attire as "Booji Boyee" when he came out to do his signature version of "Beautiful World."

In a truly surprising moment, Booji Boy took a break from "Beautiful World" to regale us with an account of his mis-adventures on Hollywood Boulevard and his eventual rescue by Michael Jackson. As he told of being taken to the Neverland ranch and being given a special sleeping bag by the Gloved One, the whole audience figured the story was about to go into a predictably nasty place and a few cries of "Too soon!" were heard. However, Booji Boy surprised all of us by concluding his story with a heartfelt outpouring of love for Jackson, whom he he described as "a very nice man." Yeah, I didn't expect that one either.

"Goodnight, Spuds!" And so ended the weakest Devo show I ever saw.

A seemingly worn-out and utterly disinterested Devo toiled through the entirety of the "Freedom of Choice" album and I have never seen them so listless. In fact I would say that the Saturday night show was by far the worst Devo performance I've experienced in the twenty-seven years I've gone to their live shows. Chris, who's just as hardcore on Devo as I am (if not moreso), seconded that assessment and the majority of fellow concertgoers I spoke to afterwards were sorely disappointed.

The face of apathy: the crowd sensed the band's lack of enthusiasm and responded in kind. This shot if from about halfway through the show.
It was painfully obvious that the band just were not into it, perhaps because the previous night's first album show was a straight-up rock 'n' roll kick up the ass (although admittedly a very weird one for the time of its initial release) that fairly bled originality. On the other hand, FREEDOM OF CHOICE was the album where Devo changed their approach and began producing songs that, though still quirky, were much more accessible to a mainstream audience, thus yielding hits like "Whipit" and "Girluwant." In short, they became a pop/dance band and evolved into a whole other entity than their initial intent. Or should I say devolved? And while damned near everybody in attendance felt they'd been rooked, by far the saddest of all were two enthusiastic yet totally disappointed hardcore female fans who'd driven in all the way from Maryland for what turned out to be a very weak barely-an-hour set. The prices on the merch also went up from the previous night.

I'm just amazed at how totally excellent Friday night's show was and then how lame Devo was just a mere twenty-four hours later. In summation: Friday was terrific, probably the second best Devo show I've ever seen (the show I saw in England back in May being the very best, where they also did the first album), while I would have missed nothing had I not attended on Saturday.


Unknown said...

Unfortunately performers can let you down.... If one is off it can throw the whole band off. They're human. Even though they are DEVO.

tom K. said...

I was up front at the barrier for both nights. I thought the band was tight and very into it on both nights. Like you said, they are two very different sounding albums. The merch prices were reasonable and did not go up the second night. You should have purchased the wind breaker. It's great.

Bunche (pop culture ronin) said...

I may be wrong, but I could swaer that the prices on the energy domes and the windbreakers went up between shows. And as for the Saturday night show biting the big one, I stand by my statement.

Anonymous said...

I have seen all of the recent tours that Devo has done and the Saturday show was the week one out of all of them. Not to mention the fact that the place was to small for them and most of the Balcony was closed off to the people who had tickets but would have to pay an extra fifty dollars to use it. I am just glad to have seen them the other times so that makes up for it. I will go see them again but not at the Irving Plaza.