Report: DEVO Comes Alive! (In S.F.)

 

The spudboys from O – HI – O recreate
their classic debut LP – politically incorrect lyrics ‘n’ all – last Friday (Nov. 6).

 

By Jud Cost

 

The recently
renamed Regency Ballroom at the corner of Sutter and Van Ness – about a stone’s
throw from storied old San Francisco hippie venue the Avalon – was jammed to
the rafters tonight with an all-ages demographic, abuzz over the reappearance
of the Ohio spudboys, DEVO. There were tattered, 30-year-old DEVO t-shirts
stretched over some patrons and flower-pot hats on others. One enthusiastic
young guy, wearing a pork pie chapeau with glow-in-the-dark plastic ribbon
spelling out the band’s name, took a flying header trying to climb over an
aluminum barricade. I never did see him get up; he might still be lying there.

 

As recent
college students from Kent State and fresh out of Akron (“What’s round on the end and
“HI” in the middle? O-HI-O!”), DEVO first played the eye of San
Fran’s punk hurricane, the Mabuhay Gardens, in 1977 before they’d released
their first LP on Warner Bros. A hardy crowd of about 60 were treated that
night to a short, band-produced 1974 film called The Truth About De-evolution before the inventors of robot-rock took
the stage. With their synchronized, herky-jerky movements, hazmat-style
uniforms and mechanical vocals, DEVO left a trail of popcorn in the woods that
night for such current practitioners of android-inspired indie-rock as
Grandaddy, Radiohead and Mercury Rev to follow, decades later.

 

Oddly enough,
George Hunter, the man behind the concept of the Charlatans, the
Edwardian-clad, S.F.-based rock combo who trailblazed the hippie revolution in
1965, once told me of his original idea to dress the band like robots playing
angular robot music. That probably would never have flown in the Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love, but DEVO took
it to the bank 11 years later at the height of the punk revolution.

 

The blueprint
tonight called for DEVO to play their entire debut longplayer, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO!,
something not to be missed. (The album was recently reissued by Warner Bros. in
expanded/remastered form.) It was that rare occasion where a band now in its
fifties doesn’t lose much by being middle-aged. Graying hair and thickened
middles only added to the suburbia-gone-insane original game plan. Mark
Mothersbaugh peered briefly out at the already-gyrating mob through coke-bottle
spectacles before leading his platoon, all decked out in banana-slug yellow
jumpsuits, into an assault on the album’s opener, “Uncontrollable
Urge.” Before the set was 15 minutes old, Mothersbaugh had ripped the
sleeves off the rest of the band that included original members Bob
Mothersbaugh and Gerald and Bob Casale, still squaring off their stage turns
like it was Nazi boot camp. 

 

Eventually, the
boys stripped off the sweaty jumpsuits, tossed them into the sea of faces, and
lit a magnesium fire under the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” whose
sprung rhythm was stretched like an industrial-strength rubber band with
jaw-busting lyrics like: “And I try and I try/And I try try try try try
try try/I can’t get me no/Satisfaction.” 

 

“Jocko
Homo” is the one everyone’s been waiting for: “They tell us that we
lost our tails/Evolving up from little snails/I say it’s all just wind and
sails/Are we not men?/We are DEVO/Are we not pins?/We are DEVO!” The
pinhead reference, of course, is just the tip of the politically incorrect
iceberg. The original lyrics to the very rocking “Mongoloid,” easily
DEVO’s best song, are diluted not a whit for the Obama generation.
“Mongoloid, he was a mongoloid, happier than you and me/Mongoloid he was a
mongoloid, one chromosome too many/And he wore a hat and he had a job and he
brought home the bacon so that no one knew/He was a Mongoloid, he was a
Mongoloid/And no one even cared.” 

 

Complaining
about tactless passages depicting the genetically challenged in these songs
from almost 35 years ago would seem about as pointless now as sanitizing the
insensitive racial terminology used by Mark Twain 125 years ago. The boys’ own
lyrics supply the answer to the conundrum: “Teachers and critics all dance
the poot.” After all, in the Old Testament according to DEVO, “God
made man but the monkey supplied the rules.”

 

 

[Photo of DEVO
in Dallas 2006 by Michael Pilmer, via www.myspace.com/devo]

 

Leave a Reply