I am glad this is mostly a visual medium, because I am deaf.
I was not deaf up until about 9:45 Thursday night, which is when the five members of Devo launched into their first song, and I started singing the lyrics at the top of my lungs. Come to think of it, my throat hurts, too. I may be deaf and mute tomorrow.
We had ventured deep into the most heinous bowels of the Orange Empire (‘The more you tighten your grip, the more citrus will slip through your fingers.’), to the House of Blues in Anaheim. Yes, we were in that wretched hive of scum and villany known as Downtown Disney, and it bespeaks what the world is like these days when Devo seemed more normal and real than what was just outside the club’s doors. (As a passing note, it was particularly bittersweet to pass by the ‘savvy representation of New Orleans’, Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen. I just shook my head. The surreality.)
Yes, Devo seemed ‘normal,’ but that was always one of their strengths: despite the carefully crafted image of technological geekdom, they are in fact passionate rockers. And I’m here to tell you, they are still playing as tight as ever. If I had to choose the last thing I heard on this earth, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see Devo was a good choice. Deafness was a small price to pay….
This was actually a present from my wife and I to my stepson Hans for his 18th birthday (wow!), as all three of us have been huge Devo fans for years and years. We had wanted to go to their HoB Sunset Strip shows earlier in August, but it was 21 years and older. My wife Denyse actually saw them three times ‘back in the day,’ including the 1979-turning-to-1980 New Year’s Eve show in Long Beach, the t-shirt for which she wore to Thursday’s show. But unlike her experience and seating at those old concerts, we got there early enough to grab space up against the front barricade. We couldn’t be any closer and not be on stage.
A video played before the show proper began, filled with tons of the old surreal clips they used to play before shows, and it pumped up the big crowd (especially for such a small venue — it was packed) to release a huge scream when Devo themselves appeared. And there they all were (older, grayer, and, well, missing the thinness of their youth, let’s say) standing not 10 feet away.
Holy crap, it’s Devo!
Much of the concert drew from the first three studio albums (Q: Are We Not Men, Duty Now For The Future, Freedom of Choice), and they did a good job of mixing up their hits (Whip It, Satisfaction) with lesser known but killer tracks from all three. Jocko Homo, Girl You Want, Gates of Steel, Wiggly World, Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA, Mongoloid, and more.
I was struck by something you don’t see in their videos — something that you’d probably miss except in a small venue like the HoB. It was their smiles, their interacting with the crowd, their acknowledging fans singing along. This was in direct contrast to their choreographed, mechanical moves.
That’s the thing about Devo that separates them from, say, the strictly technological Kraftwerk (another favorite of mine). Where the latter finds and draws out the soul within the machine, Devo is humanity struggling against the soullessly mechanical — the bureaucratic, the fundamentalist, the constricted, the hypocritical conformist.
They emerged at first in their signature red flowerpot hats and yellow environmental suits with DEVO on the chest, along with matching black Doc Martens. By midway through the show, with Mark Mothersbaugh ripping all their suits away as he sang, they were throwing the scraps into the crowd, along with spare red Devo hats. (Thanks to our proximity, Hans was able to grab almost an entire suit! Score! Pics below.) Their clothes underneath were black t-shirts and boxer shorts with the old bomb riding a bomb cartoon character emerging from the crotch hole.
During the encore, Mark came out with a big foam cowboy hat, enormous fake moustache, and his boxers stuffed front and back with more boxers, which he proceeded to pull out and throw into the crowd. Denyse snagged a pair of boxers out of mid-air and one of the dozens of super balls they bounced off the stage in giant rainbow swarms.
Despite our current deafness and the drive, we are deliriously happy at the moment. We scored awesome swag. We saw one of our most favorite bands in the world, in a small venue, all but on stage with them.
We must repeat, D-E-V-O.
While we weren’t able to snap any concert photos thanks to a security guard (who had apparently absorbed a Volkswagen Bug before the show, so large was he) right in front of us, but here are somebody else’s on Flickr, from their August 13th show, where you can see the same costumes and shenanigans.