Devo still looks like Devo but they’re much older now. Their planetary crash test dummy appearance — robotic, geeky and punk — has matured into a nostalgic grandfatherly warmth, as familiar and fascinating as your favorite sci-fi flick from childhood.
The Northern Lights rock and roll club in Clifton Springs, New York, wedged in a suburban shopping plaza between a Family Dollar store and a new-fangled alternative church, served ziti, hot dogs, and sausages from a small steam table in the same room Devo took the stage. Somehow, steamed ziti and Devo just don’t mix well.
Still it seemed a fitting environment for the return of a band who look like they emerged from the bowels of a chemistry lab. For the record, the server was hot, the hot dog was not.
A curved wall-to-wall video backdrop, typical of Devo shows of the past, projected psychedelic spud boy drama as they opened with the fiery anti-gun plea, “Don’t Shoot, I’m A Man” off the recently released Something For Everybody. Mark Mothersbaugh’s electrifying synth keypad delivered a spine-tingling ride up and down the musical scale.
Devo marched through their recording career with, notably, several songs off their acclaimed debut from 1978, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! “Jocko Homo” spirited the crowd into a marketing dream come true vocal chant (“We are Devo!”), and the punkish “Mongoloid” gave the hopping crowd a dizzying dancing beat. “Uncontrollable Urge,” a primitive lust for sex, was raw and beautiful.
“Peek-A-Boo!” from Oh No! It’s Devo was as comically evil if a bit more thunderous than ever, with a bass line so heavy and deep I thought my knee caps were going to pop out.
“Gates Of Steel” and “The Girl U Want,” along with the title track from Freedom Of Choice, were perfectly rendered and welcome reminders of a cassette tape I literally wore out back in the day. Their ten minutes of mainstream fame, “Whip It,” a chart-topping ode to masturbation, was performed, unlike the rest of the show, without distinction. It was handed to the crowd like a salesman’s calling card.
Cover songs, The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man,” seemed reborn again with the former sounding positively calypso and “Secret Agent Man” losing a paranoid edge to a wizened resigned maturity — “They’ve given me a number, and they’ve taken away my name.” “So what, who cares,” the song seemed to say.
Musically, the band was tight and disciplined and the vocals were as freakishly nasal as ever. They can still hop in unison and play guitar at the same time, and Bob Mothersbaugh’s (Mark’s brother) lead guitar was fast and fluid. Special mention must be made of younger by comparison drummer Josh Freese (Nine Inch Nails, Weezer, A Perfect Circle), who led the beat so ferociously you’d think he wrote the music himself.
Booji Boy, a decadent and delightful Devo persona in mask, resembling a walking, talking, deformed Kewpie doll, made his obligatory appearance at show’s end, interrupting finale “Beautiful World” with a “personal” story about an encounter with the late Michael Jackson. Apparently, Jackson too thought it was a beautiful world. Booji Boy nearly shook a tear from our eye.
They tossed plastic energy dome caps into the audience ($30 a pop at the Devo marketing table), shook pom-poms like grotesque cheerleaders, ripped the anti-contaminant uniforms off each other, and threw the shredded clothing into the crowd. Gimme, gimme eBay souvenir! They then continued playing in their underwear which was decidedly Devo fashioned.
They saluted, marched, hopped, and pranced all over the stage. There is little doubt these guys are eating their Wheaties. But mostly they rocked, as only a good mongoloid from planet Earth can.