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Weird Live Review: Hardcore DEVO

Devo at the Wiltern

These day’s, it’s pretty common for veteran bands to dedicate entire shows to a single album. Everyone from the Pixies to Cheap Trick to Kraftwerk have jumped on that particular nostalgia bandwagon. What’s rarer is for bands to focus an entire tour around their earliest, most obscure material. But that’s exactly what DEVO have chosen to do for their Hardcore DEVO Live tour, which is based entirely on songs they wrote and/or recorded before the release of their first album, 1978′s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! And judging from the audience response at the Wiltern Theatre here in Los Angeles last night, it was a smart decision. Turns out plenty of DEVO fans are super-excited to hear the band playing material that they mostly haven’t performed live in over 30 years.

There was no opening act, so the band took the stage promptly at 8:30 p.m.: Original DEVO-ers Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale, plus drummer Josh Freese, who’s been with the band more or less continuously since 1996. The stage set was cleverly made up to look vaguely like the Ohio basement in which the band started, with backdrops painted to look like cinderblocks, topped by translucent panels doubling as dirty windows. Mark sat at his keyboard reading a newspaper. “Nixon says he’s resigning,” he announced, his voice distorted to sound robotic and cartoonish. “I think 1974 is gonna be a good year.” Then he proceeded to hurl packs of cigarettes into the audience. “Got any Chesterfields?” Jerry asked. “I already gave away the one pack,” Mark quipped.

Devo

With the scene set and the hijinks out of the way, the band launched into “Mechanical Man,” the first track from the highly sought-after Hardcore Devo compilation that collected all their early demos onto CD for the first time back in 1990. From there the band proceeded to tear many of Hardcore Devo‘s best-known tracks: “Auto Modown/Space Girls Blues,” “I Been Refused,” “Bamboo Bimbo,” plus a few true obscurities like the bluesy “Beehive,” which someone at the Denver stop of this tour was smart enough to capture on film:

Serious DEVO fans probably also known this song from Jerry Casale’s Jihad Jerry side project, which revived the track in 2006. Throughout the Hardcore show, it was fun to see Jerry taking lead vocals duties as often as Mark—a reminder that, in the band’s early days, they didn’t have a true frontman. Bob 1 got a few turns on the mic, too, including “Baby Talkin’ Bitches,” one of several guitar-heavy early DEVO tracks that reveal the band’s roots in Midwestern proto-punk:

About midway through their set, the band got up from their stools and changed costumes, putting on the blue “workmen’s” suits and blue hardhats that served as their earliest band uniforms. From there, they launched into some better-known early tracks that definitely got the crowd more revved up (up until that point, apart from the one guy dancing like a lunatic directly in front of me, it was clear that most in attendance weren’t very familiar with the material).

This was the part of the show that included their brilliantly off-kilter cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” as well as several tracks from the 1974-77 era that eventually found their way onto Are We Not Men? and Duty Now for the Future: “Timing X,” “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Jocko Homo,” “Gut Feeling.” The crowd also knew many of the words to “Be Stiff,” a longtime live favorite, and “Fountain of Filth,” a punk rave-up with a shout-along chorus that could almost pass for a Ramones song. (In the video below, you can see Jerry wearing the creepy, transparent doll masks they donned earlier for “Jocko Homo,” another nod to the theatrics of their early days.)

They only played a two-song encore, but it was a pretty great two songs. First, Mark Mothersbaugh came out dressed as Booji Boy, one of the band’s early representations of devolution. This time around, he was dressed up sort of like a Teletubbie, in a pink hooded jumpsuit with cartoon eyes drawn over the hood. He also came onstage pushing a walker, perhaps an ironic nod to the fact that DEVO first introduced the character nearly 40 years ago.

After Mark’s solo performance of “Booji Boy’s Funeral” and “U Got Me Bugged”—definitely two of the weirdest songs in the entire DEVO catalog—the entire band came back out to wrap up the show with a rousing rendition of “Clockout,” featuring Bob Casale’s son Alex on bass. (A song they hadn’t played live since 1977, according to Jerry.) It was one of several nods to Bob 2 (and to late drummer Alan Myers) sprinkled throughout the evening, all of which felt fitting but never heavy-handed.

Overall, the band did a remarkably good job of keeping the show from lapsing into one big nostalgia-fest. The sheer rawness of the early DEVO songs probably helped in that regard, but so did the high-energy performances of the band. Even if they need to sit on stools these days to make it through a 90-minute set, the surviving Casale and the brothers Mothersbaugh can still rock out pretty convincingly for a bunch of guys well into their sixties. In my blurry Instagram photos, you’d swear they haven’t aged a day.

Devo

Since there was no opening act, the show ended on the early side, around 10:00 p.m. I heard a few protests from the crowd—a few people had probably hoped they would play some more “hits” in the encore—but as far as I’m concerned, the Hardcore DEVO show delivered exactly as promised. For the truly hardcore DEVO fans in attendance, especially that one dancing lunatic right in front of me (“How can you not to dance to this?” he shouted to no one in particular during “Ono”), it might have been their last chance to hear their heroes resurrect those songs they created back when they were a bunch of restless art students in an Akron basement.

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We just drank wine with DEVO

Photo by Chelsea Lauren

Photo by Chelsea Lauren

I’m still geeking out over this one. On Wednesday, Gerald Casale of DEVO had a tasting party here in Los Angeles for the first two releases from his new winery, The 50 By 50. I got to go cover the event for my day gig at LA Weekly. You can read my write-up here, and you can look forward to a full transcript of my 20-minute interview with Jerry sometime this weekend, although be warned: It’s mostly just a couple of cork dorks shooting the shit about microclimates and Super Tuscans. Although I did manage to squeeze in a few DEVO-related questions at the end.

I also got to chat with Mark Mothersbaugh, although no transcript of that conversation is forthcoming because I’d already drunk a lot of wine by then. I will tell you this, though: When I complimented him on his glasses, he replied, “September!” At first I thought that was the name of the company that makes them, but no, that’s when they’ll be made available to the general public. They’re Mothersbaugh’s own design. “It’s actually really easy to get your own frames manufactured,” he said (and I’m paraphrasing here because, again, I was slightly tipsy and forgot to turn on my recorder). “You just have to agree to let the manufacturer keep all the money.”

So anyway, yeah, more on this little career highlight soon.

DEVO announces 10-city “Hardcore DEVO Live” tour honoring Bob Casale

DEVO circa 1977

DEVO, pre-Energy Domes

Exciting news for hardcore DEVO fans: The pioneers of devolved rock have just announced a 10-city tour that will focus on their early, experimental, pre-Are We Not Men?-era music. They’re calling it, appropriately enough, the “Hardcore DEVO Live” tour and dedicating to the memory of Robert “Bob 2″ Casale, who passed away earlier this year. A portion of the tour profits will even go towards Bob 2′s family—so come prepared to load up on DEVO merch.

Tickets for the tour (full dates below) go on sale in most cities tomorrow (Friday, Apr. 4th). It looks like they might be releasing pricier VIP tickets first, but they could be worth the $100+ price tag; they’ll get you a meet-and-greet with the band and first crack at the merch, which promises to include some limited-edition photo prints from the band’s 1974-1977 period. For ticket purchasing links and other details, hit up ClubDevo.com.

Given the tour’s ’74-’77 time frame, the set list should include all sort of lost nuggets and rarities—including, hopefully, this one:

Here are the Hardcore DEVO Live dates. Hope to see y’all at the L.A. show!

June 18 – Baltimore, MD – Rams Head
June 19 – NYC – Best Buy Theater
June 21 – St. Charles, IL – Arcada Theatre
June 23 – Denver, CO – Summit Music Hall
June 25 – Seattle, WA – Neptune
June 26 – Vancouver, BC – Commodore Ballroom
June 28 – Oakland, CA – Fox Theatre
June 29 – Los Angeles, CA – Wiltern Theatre
June 30 – Solana Beach, CA – Belly Up
July 2 – Austin, TX – ACL/Moody Theatre

 

R.I.P. Bob Casale, DEVO guitarist

Bob Casale

Anyone who reads this blog probably knows this by now, but we lost another member of DEVO this week. Bob Casale, one of the band’s founding members, died Monday of heart failure at the age of 61. His death comes less than a year after former DEVO drummer Alan Myers died of cancer. Yeah, it’s been a rough couple of years for DEVO and their fans.

Casale played guitar and keyboards and was known as “Bob2″ because guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh was “Bob1.” Here’s what his brother, DEVO co-founder Gerald Casale, said about Bob2 on the band’s website:

As an original member of Devo, Bob Casale was there in the trenches with me from the beginning.

He was my level-headed brother, a solid performer and talented audio engineer, always giving more than he got.

He was excited about the possibility of Mark Mothersbaugh allowing Devo to play shows again.

His sudden death from conditions that lead to heart failure came as a total shock to us all.

Added DEVO frontman Mark Mothersbaugh:

We are shocked and saddened by Bob Casale’s passing. He not only was integral in DEVO’s sound, he worked over twenty years at Mutato, collaborating with me on sixty or seventy films and television shows, not to mention countless commercials and many video games.

Bob was instrumental in creating the sound of projects as varied as Rugrats and Wes Anderson’s films. He was a great friend. I will miss him greatly.

I know we’re usually a bunch of snarky snarkheads on this blog, but not this week. Our hearts go out to everyone in the DEVO family.

Let’s play this post our with some live DEVO circa 1979. It really sucks that two of the five guys in this clip are no longer with us.

Happy Valentine’s Day, weirdos!

MyFreakyValentine

In honor of this special day, when couples fight over who spent the most on flowers and massage oils, we’ve expanded our “My Freaky Valentine” Spotify playlist. Now 30 songs deep and sexier than ever, this freaky mix of weird love songs features additional tracks by Suicide, Psychic TV, Busdriver, The Deviants, The Dead Brothers, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Johnny McGovern, DEVO, Smoota, Univore and our patron saint, GG Allin, wrapping things up with his classic baby-making ballad, “I Wanna Fuck Your Brains Out.” It’s all guaranteed to put that special someone in the mood—that mood being confused unease.

So fire up your Spotify player, or use the nifty embedded player below, and let’s get physical. Happy V-Day, everyone!

You seriously still don’t own a copy of DEVO’s “The Complete Truth About De-Evolution”? That’s OK, they’re reissuing it again next month.

devo-completetruth-smaller

Although they’re still mostly remembered for “Whip It,” DEVO made some of the greatest and strangest music videos of the MTV era, beginning with early avant-garde classics like “Jocko Homo” and culminating in eye-popping performance clips like “Peek-a-Boo” and “Time Out for Fun.” Most of these videos were first collected in 1993 on The Complete Truth About De-Evolution, released exclusively in the ill-fated Laserdisc format. The collection was later reissued on DVD in 2003 by Rhino Records, but that set went out of print. Maybe third time’s the charm?

On Feb. 11th, MVD Entertainment will release the latest incarnation of The Complete Truth About De-Evolution on DVD. As near as we can tell, it’s the same material that was included on the Rhino release, which is to say that the band’s 1984 cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Are U Experienced?” still doesn’t make the cut (apparently the Hendrix estate really didn’t like DEVO’s take) but a bunch of cool bonus materials do, including some early live footage and Bruce Conner’s short film version of “Mongoloid.” There’s also commentary by Mark Mothersbaugh and Gerald Casale, which is the worth the price of admission alone.

No details yet on where you can find the newest version of The Complete Truth About De-Evolution but most MVD Entertainment releases are pretty easy to track down via Amazon.com and elsewhere. If we can get our hands on a copy, we’ll post a longer review of the full package soon.

Let’s play this post out with some classic DEVO eye candy from the 1981 New Traditionalists era, aka that time when the guys all wore fake plastic Reagan hair for a year. This is “Through Being Cool,” which I’m tempted to say is the weirdest video they ever did, except they’re all pretty weird in their own ways. I do believe, however, that this is the only DEVO video to feature some sweet breakdancing spin moves. [Update: Nope. Turns out this one does, too. We apologize for the oversight. We also blame the Hendrix estate.]

This fan-made DEVO claymation video is awesome

devo-searching-for

Here’s a fun little thing we recently ran across on ClubDevo.com: a Polish film student named Natalia Brożyńska recently completed a short stop-action animated film called “Searching for Devo,” featuring (with the band’s blessing) the demo version of “Blockhead.” The whole thing is beautifully shot and looks like it probably took more hours to do than we’ve spent on this entire blog in four years. Here’s what Gerald Casale had to say about it: “This sincere, labor-intensive, retro stop-action animation piece from a young girl in Poland is the latest proof that music is indeed the universal language. I felt like Devo were anthropomorphized bacteria performing sonic surgery in a Blockhead’s colon.”

Q: Are we not men? A: We are Throbbleheads!

DEVO ThrobbleheadI really hope we get to take the people over at Aggronautix out for beers someday, because those guys are frickin’ awesome. Their Throbblehead series sometimes seems like it’s ripped from the pages of this blog: GG Allin, Mojo Nixon, Roky Erickson (OK, Roky’s not on the Weird List yet, but he probably should be). If they come out with an Anklepants Throbblehead, we’ll take that as proof that they’re mining our Weird List for likely candidates to immortalize in polyresin.

The latest entry in Aggronautix’s growing pantheon of weirdo Throbbleheads is none other than DEVO. Based on the classic look from the band’s 1980 “Freedom of Choice” tour, the seven-inch figure sports a bitchin’ keytar and a red Energy Dome hat—which bobbles! To the best of our knowledge, the keytar doesn’t work—but it still looks bitchin’.

The DEVO Throbblehead figures ship in September and only 2,000 are being made, so pre-order yours now. And as if you needed any more convincing, here’s a video starring Gerry Casale and, uh, some other dude, touting the Throbblehead’s many virtues.

R.I.P. Alan Myers, DEVO drummer

Alan Myers DEVO

Sad news from the weird music world this week: Alan Myers, drummer for DEVO during their classic 1976-1985 period, died of brain cancer on Monday at the age of 58. Although DEVO has gone through many drummers over the years—Myers was their third, replacing Jim Mothersbaugh—he’s probably the one you’re thinking of when you picture the band in their signature Energy Dome hats, belting out offbeat New Wave hits like “Whip It” and “Girl U Want.”

We’re late to this wake: A zillion other publications have already published obits and tributes, of which the one from the LA Times’ Randall Roberts is probably our favorite. Current DEVO drummer Josh Freese also summed up Myers’ career quite neatly in a single tweet: “1 of my all time favs. An underrated/brilliant drummer. Such an honor playing his parts w/Devo. Godspeed Human Metronome.”

Myers left DEVO in 1985 after the release of the heavily programmed Shout, saying the band’s increasing use of Fairlights and electronic drums left him feeling uninspired. In the years that followed, he was a regular presence around the L.A. music scene, particularly with Skyline Electric, the band he founded with his wife Christine in 2005. They were actually scheduled to play a show in Chinatown this Friday, but presumably that show has been canceled.

We’ll leave you with a classic DEVO live performance from 1980: “Uncontrollable Urge.” People like to call Alan Myers the “Human Metronome,” but no mere metronome could have rocked this hard through this track’s stop-start rhythms. His precise, propulsive drum patterns were as much a part of the band’s sound as Mark Mothersbaugh’s yelping vocals. When DEVO finally get inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—and let’s be optimistic and assume they will be—there should be an empty seat at the table in remembrance of Alan Myers.

Weirdify Playlist 13: My Freaky Valentine

MyFreakyValentine

Let’s face it: Most love songs suck. If you’re like me, you can’t fire up the Whitney Houston come Valentine’s Day for fear of your lady love punching you in the face (and rightly so, I might add). So what’s a misfit in love to do? Don’t worry, TWBITW is here to help.

These 19 unconventional love songs will help you get your freak on with that special someone—of, if you don’t have a special someone, they’ll make you feel great about being single. Yes, they can do both. They’re just that fucking good.

So fire up your Spotify player, or use the nifty embedded player below, and let’s start the seduction.

Some notes on your listening experience:

1. Leslie Hall, “Power Cuddle.” Our current Weirdo of the Week starts us off with a little heavy petting. Spoiler alert: “Take me to Miami, we can hold handies” is the best lyric in this entire playlist. It’s all downhill from here.

2. Dirty Sanchez, “Give Head & Be Beautiful.” Now that we’ve got the cuddling out of the way, let’s get to the good stuff.

3. Gonken, “Robot Lovin’.” OK, slow jam time. This one goes out to everyone whose significant other is one screw short.

4. Goldie Lookin’ Chain, “You Knows I Loves You.” Wales’ greatest (only?) hip-hop crew puts on the moves. Eat your heart out, R. Kelly.

5. Die Antwoord, “U Make a Ninja Wanna Fuck.” Believe it or not, this is actually the South African rap-ravers’ romantic side. They even quote Tiffany!

6. Here Come the Mummies, “Bed, Bath & Behind.” In which a bunch of funky mummies do the nasty all over your nice furniture. Don’t think about the cleaning bills, just go with it.

7. Baby Seal Club, “Silly Human Sentiment.” If you’re incapable of expressing love without feeling like an idiot, this is the song for you. Also, you might need therapy. Just sayin’.

8. DEVO, “The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise.” We’re not really sure what’s wrong with Mark Mothersbaugh’s baby, but it doesn’t sound good. But his devotion sounds undying, which makes this about as close to a pure boy/girl love song as DEVO’s ever likely to write.

9. Barnes and Barnes, “Girl of My Dreams.” The “worried young man” of this song might a stalker, but at least he’s a romantic stalker.

10. The Emotron, “Love Song.” Boy meets cigarettes. Boy loses cigarettes. Boy loses his shit. It’s a love story for the ages.

11. Sparks, “Perfume.” If your girlfriend asks why you didn’t get her any perfume for Valentine’s Day, just play her this song instead. Unless you don’t want to spend your life with her. Then things might get awkward.

12. Nous Non Plus, “Acte Manqué/Freudian Slip.” We have no idea what this song is about, but a boy and a girl singing to each other in French always sounds romantic.

13. The Wet Spots, “Labia Limbo.” We got away from songs about sex for awhile there, didn’t we? Unless that French song is all about fucking like bunnies. Anyway, Canada’s favorite kinky lounge act leaves no doubt what we’re talking about.

14. GWAR, “Sexecutioner.” You know what else this playlist needs? Some whip-crack and barnyard animal sound effects. Also, some metal. And genital wart and golden shower references in a ridiculously bad fake European accent. Now we’re ready for sexytime.

15. Anti-Nowhere League, “Woman.” Our old pal Army of Gay Unicorns recommended this track to us, and it is indeed the most romantic hardcore ’80s punk song we’ve ever heard, not to mention a harrowingly accurate depiction of marriage. (Love you, honey!) Also, the lead singer impersonates Animal from the Muppets, which is always a bonus.

16. The Residents, “Perfect Love.” Wise words from the patron saints of Weirdest Band in the World. Remember this song when you’re home alone crying this Thursday.

17. The Tiger Lillies, “My Funny Valentine.” When performed by our favorite Goth-punk cabaret trio with a full orchestra, the inherent twistedness of this old show tune really comes through. Did he really just call his lady love “unphotographable”? That’s some cold shit right there, Rodgers & Hart.

18. Klaus Nomi, “Valentine’s Day.” Shout-out to reader Adela for reminding us about this thematically appropriate (albeit indecipherable) song from the late, great synth-pop counter-tenor’s unfinished masterpiece, Za Bakdaz.

19. Ween, “Sweetheart.” After you’ve finished ravishing your lover and/or lotion collection with the sensual sounds of this playlist, you’ll probably want to lie back in post-coital bliss and crank some smooth, sweet yacht-rock, courtesy of the only band we’ve ever blogged about that’s done anything even remotely resembling a Boz Scaggs record. Happy Valentine’s Day, y’all!

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