Often, when a group from a bygone era pops back into the public consciousness after a prolonged silence, it’s a safe bet that that band is simply in need of a paycheck and ready to suckle on the teat of others’ nostalgia to get it. Or perhaps its just experiencing a midlife crisis, ready to jump back on the stage, play a few hits and supply middle-aged parents opportunities to embarrass their children by dragging them to a venue to hear songs they might only recognize from a car commercial or a rap sample.
Ah, but not Devo. Sure, people dismiss the band as a synth-heavy collection of oddballs that likes to wear bizarre clothes and sing weird songs about whipping things. Which Devo is, technically. But the beauty of Devo is the fact that the group knows that weirdness is eternal, quirk is the fountain of youth, and nothing beats a massive dose of synthpop brilliance
delivered by its originators.
In that sense, Devo is eternal, a group that refuses to be dated even when its music begs to be (a chorus of “Don’t taze me, brah” should have been instantly dated when the song, “Don’t Shoot,” was released last year…yet it isn’t). Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh’s music isn’t the kind of stuff you’d find in a time capsule alongside Bow Wow Wow and Flock of Seagulls, despite its definite New Wave prototypical sound. It’s the kind of music that should be passed down from generation to generation—like compatriots Talking Heads—and from the look of the sold-out crowd at the Crystal Ballroom last Wednesday, it’s working.
Touring in support of the last year’s fantastic Something for Everybody
, Devo packed the Crystal to the bursting point, with a crowd composed of boomers, young kids, parents and their progeny, teenagers and everybody in between, many wearing the band’s trademark Energy Dome hats and buzzing with excitement.
Following a set by the excellent, mostly instrumental and decidedly unclassifiable Octopus Project—an Austin quintet boasting operatic use of the Theremin and a penchant for balls-out rock climaxes—Devo was introduced by…well, Devo, courtesy of a massive and arty video screen that seemed tailor-made for stadiums and cast the smaller Crystal in an electric phosphorescence. Onscreen, a video retrospective of the band’s evolution played out, and for a second it looked as if the heroic weirdos might be falling into the trap of aping nostalgia. Those fears proved unfounded.
Instead, Devo burst onto the stage with the vigor of its younger self and armed with the professionalism and spot-on musicianship of masters who have grown even though the band is still just as strange as its ever been. Opening with “Don’t Shoot,”a raucous piece of vibrant technophobia, the band immediately held audiences captive and didn’t let up for a second of its 90-minute explosion. With Something
Devo managed an impossible feat—the band created a straight-up Devo album devoid of moody ballads and other pitfalls that often mar new releases from old pros. The album sits perfectly alongside classics like Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
and Oh No! It’s Devo
as a testament to the group’s awesome ability to render pulsing pop anomalies that are easy to consume and impossible to put down—the only difference is now the band has more digital toys to play with, and the musicians play with them with the exuberance of a kid with new toys on Christmas.
New songs held up alongside the classics, and the group embraced nostalgia for the hits without pandering, changing outfits more times throughout the set than Christina Aguilera (outfits included the classic jumpsuit/Energy Dome ensemble, skin-tight hot-dog suits, yellow jump suits and Dr. Evil-esque rompers).
The group seldom stopped to breath throughout the show’s two sets, which offered a mix of new and classic Devo to please the crowd. The electronica-infused “What We Do” played out like a rave, with the crowd bounding along to the chorus, “cheeseburger cheese burger do it again” as images of fried meat flooded the video display. “Fresh” was a quick and satisfying blast of neo-Devo, while oldies like the band’s trippy take on “(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction” and the requisite “Whip It” blew the roof off the place.
As the band plowed on, workmanlike, the machine that is Devo was an impressive sight to behold. Leader Mark Mothersbaugh—currently a favorite among indie-filmmakers for his skills at scoring films—commanded the stage like a deranged preacher brought to Earth from a distant planet. Touring drummer Josh Freese dominated in the pocket, while fellow founding members Bob Mothersbaugh and brothers Bob and Gerald Casale proved the old boys could still
do it with the best of them.
Well into the second set, the energy never died. “Mongoloid” sent the venue into the stratosphere, “Freedom of Choice” drew hearty applause and “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA” instilled a massive energy. But the highlight of the show was an extended take on “Beautiful World,” a driving ode to joy that seemed hypnotize the audience with its earnest pleasantness and unshakably catchy chorus.
That was the beauty of Devo’s nearly flawless show. After more than three decades, the band proved that its weirdness can and will never be dated like so many other acts from the primordial ooze from which Devo was spawned. Devo isn’t a nostalgia act, or a bunch of old farts looking to cash a paycheck by playing “Whip It” for dumbasses who are willing to dismiss the group as kitsch. Devo continues to evolve and do what it does. And because of that, Devo is indeed eternal. Judging by the reaction of the younger audience members at the Crystal—many slapped with elated expressions of surprise—there’s a new generation of Spuds just waiting to be cultivated. Hopefully, they won’t have to wait another 20 years to get a fresh fix.