Saturday, November 14, 2009

DEVO: Chicago, the Vic. 11.13.2009, 8 PM Night Two-Freedom of Choice (review)

Chicago, Illinois--Last night's Chicago performance was a barn burner for the many Midwestern fans of DEVO, itself being a Midwestern band going back to the early 1970s. As a matter of fact, the members of DEVO met at Kent State University during the Vietnam War era, some were members of SDS, and bassist Gerald Casale helped organize the antiwar demonstration in the spring of 1970 in which the infamous shootings took place. If you stay in the Midwest long enough, you get as weird as these guys or weirder, mostly from boredom.

Far from being "nerds," or "yuppies," DEVO began as a multimedia arts collective and still operates as one to this day. The real irony in all of this is that they never broke up and have continued to record in their Sunset Strip "Mutato" studio doing soundtrack and commercial work, the most well known being with director Wes Anderson.

Like several other old school punk and postpunk bands that have been touring this year--like the Pixies and even R.E.M.--the spuds were doing entire albums live and in their original running order. Night one was "Are We Not Men?" from 1978 (a punk classic) which sold out so quickly that another night was added to their Chicago appearance. Night two brought the entire "Freedom of Choice" LP from 1980, and yes, "Whip It" was in full bloom with all of its punch and glory. The music hasn't aged and the entire original lineup looked healthier and happier than they have in--well--over a decade, and the mood was celebratory, even for Chicago. From the opening guitar-riffs of "Girl U Want" to the more obscured album cuts like "Gates of Steel" and Mr. B's Ballroom," there was a real sense that this music hasn't aged at all...which was interesting since there were probably no more than maybe two dozen twenty-somethings to be seen. The majority of the crowd was 30-and-up, and with the bar, it was an 18-and-older show. But what the hell, people are broke all over the place these days! The audience was more fun than people watching at Wal-Mart. The icing on the cake was the gorgeous Bettie Page-style model coming out with her boxing-round cards emblazoned with "Track 1," and so on.

Some of the best times I had was looking at all of the former New Wave glam queens, now in their forties and early fifties, but still looking pretty good! Many concertgoers literally hadn't seen the group since the 1980s, or if they were like this writer it was their first time ever. The merchandising will be legendary, but there was nothing especially crass about it and it all appeared to have been made in America. All said, it was exactly what you would have wanted out of a DEVO concert and that includes Mark Mothersbaugh coming out onstage and singing "Beautiful World" in the second set dressed as the utterly grotesque "Boojie Boy," then regaling the audience in a totally surreal account of DEVO's trek to Los Angeles and meeting Michael Jackson, that he was dead, and how great it would be if he could rise from the grave like in the video "Thriller" to tell us all "what a beautiful world it truly is." The brutal truth was that there was no irony to be had!

But really, having been a budding teenager listening to Freedom of Choice when it was new, this was just a real road to Mecca moment, pure bliss. Not only is DEVO still great, they're professional and can still stop on a dime. Most of these guys are hitting their sixties, but the joy and the appreciation were so palpable that Mark Mothersbaugh, and even Gerald Casale, could only smile along with the rest of us and enjoy a very special tour in a very unique cultural moment. One of the greatest surprises of the evening was the dusting-off of a very old DEVO song, "Be Stiff," going back to the mid-1970s, almost one of the earliest songs that they ever did. Hey, they weren't going to do "Oh No! It's DEVO!" (1982) or "Shout!" (1984). Here's to art and crowd pleasers! Whoever said you can't have both in art was wrong.

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