Monday, August 8, 2011

Devo concert review

A version of my review originally appeared at

Photo by Gilles LeBlanc/courtesy:
Devo is known for engaging in bizarre antics. Yet the events happening outside the City National Grove of Anaheim entrance - before doors even opened for Friday night’s show - nearly surpassed the veteran Ohio new wave band’s own oddness scale.  
Fans who lined up early had to endure three religious zealots, holding large signs that read: “Repent!” and “Hell Awaits You.” A woman loudly proselytized and yelled inane things like “If you sing ‘Whip It,’ God will whip you,” while her male cohort chimed in with “Devo doesn’t care about your soul; they just want your money.”
When she ranted about Noah’s Ark, a concertgoer challenged her and led everyone in the familiar chant, “Are We Not Men? We Are Devo!” A Devo acolyte briefly played along on kazoo; others had already placed brightly colored energy domes (or flowerpot hats) on their heads.  
Many people en route to the Angels game against the Mariners passed by and laughed in disbelief. One guy said, “I could see this maybe for Megadeth, but Devo?”
Agreed. Makes about as much sense as the religious organization that often tries to recruit people near the baseball stadium’s main gate. Devo isn’t exactly a new act on the scene and doesn’t really write offensive lyrics (even the 1980 top 20 single “Whip It,” despite an iconic S&M-parodying music video, is about positive thinking and overcoming adversity). There are far worse acts actually making profane pop, rap and R&B music today.
Last year, Devo finally unveiled the long awaited full-length studio album, Something for Everybody.

Working with outside producers for the first time since the seminal 1978 Brian Eno-helmed debut record, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!,” the sharp reunion effort found them collaborating with modern hitmakers John Hill and Santi White (Santigold), John King (Dust Brothers) and Greg Kurstin (Bird and the Bee). The final song selection, album artwork and color scheme (from red to florescent blue) were all test marketed beforehand.
Bassist/singer/co-songwriter Jerry Casale (pictured above, in Burlington, Ontario, Canada on June 19, 2011) told me that “when a lot of bands that have been around as long as us put out new material, it’s devoid of energy and doesn’t sound much like they used to. In our case, the new songs are right on par with an album like Freedom of Choice. So when we do them [live], they have the same power and energy as the older songs.”
Too bad more than three recent ones weren’t showcased in Anaheim. I was curious how such upbeat Something for Everyone fare as “Please Baby Please,” “Mind Games,” “March On” and “Step Up” would translate in a concert context.
If you caught Devo on tour this past March, the production and setlist were exactly the same. The 80-minute performance before a mostly-full Grove crowd was well-stocked with the band’s best-known songs and leaned favorably toward platinum-seller Freedom of Choice. Why not swap a few out for other alt-rock radio staples like “Through Being Cool,” “Jerkin’ Back ‘N’ Forth” or “Post Post-Modern Man”?
Still, after all this time, Devo remains a unique entity. The O.C. show presentation was a visual feast, deftly utilizing a large LED backdrop to project top-notch animation (notably on “Fresh”), old and new film clip footage, plus song lyric displays. The usual costume changes added to the usual fun. Minor LED malfunctions didn’t derail the spectacle.
Mark Mothersbaugh, 60, continues to handle the lead vocals just fine, but Casale, 63, seemed to get more of a workout onstage, often jogging, dancing around and gesturing between playing the synthesizer and singing background.      
No disrespect to longtime Devo drummer Josh Freese (now touring with Weezer), but his replacement Pete Parada (face to face, The Offspring, Saves the Day) definitely gave the ‘70s songs more of a punk edge (the breakneck pace of “Uncontrollable Urge” and “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA,” herky-jerky Stones cover “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction”). 
“Greetings O.C. spuds,” exclaimed Casale, before a frenetic “Whip It” was dispatched early and provoked some friendly moshing in the pit area (fans dutifully pogoed along to “Girl U Want”). He also made light of the protestors outdoors, noting they said Devo would “burn in hell. We asked if the guy knew about de-evolution. He said, ‘No, I’m just against it.’”
Later, the encore of “Freedom of Choice” incorporated a quick snatch of “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Casale sang lead on sprightly closer “Beautiful World” as the band did a bit of the original “Satisfaction.” Mothersbaugh returned in the masked guise of early Devo character Booji Boy and proceeded to do a warped mini monologue about Michael Jackson. 
Devo heads down south next to play Del Mar Racetrack on Aug. 19 and The Canyon in Agoura Hills on Aug. 26.
Setlist: Devo, City National Grove of Anaheim, Aug. 5, 2011
Main set: Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)/Peek-a-Boo/What We Do/Going Under/Fresh/That’s Good/Girl U Want/Whip It/Planet Earth/(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction/Secret Agent Man/Uncontrollable Urge/Mongoloid/Jocko Homo/Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA/Gates of Steel
Encore: Devo Corporate Anthem/Freedom of Choice/Beautiful World

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