With their toilet plunger helmets and new wave robo performance art schtick, Devo is hilarious, and their decision to play the unlikeliest of settings -->"/>
With their toilet plunger helmets and new wave robo performance art schtick, Devo is hilarious, and their decision to play the unlikeliest of settings -- the Puyallup Fair -- last night was equally hilarious. Their aggressively loyal legion of fans, let's call 'em "Devoted," bounce around like ping-pong balls during the band's live sets, which are part music, part theatre, part comedy, and all surrealism.
Easily forgotten amidst this sensory overload is just how hard Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald Casale and Co. rock, even in the upper reaches of middle age, and how significant their influence has been on a variety of genres. While they're best known for wildly popular synth jams like "Whip It," Devo was formed in 1973 as an ultra-satirical, ultra-apocalytic response to the Kent State shootings, thus tethering them, however fleetingly, to the likes of Bob Dylan and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Then, with their embrace of video and multi-media platforms as compliments to their music, Devo essentially kickstarted both New Wave and the MTV era. And while Mothersbaugh's quirky synth and David Byrne-like vocals remain grounded in New Wave, the band has always veered adroitly into punkier waters, which was reflected in the makeup of their crowd in Puyallup last night. Put it all together, and you've got an early antecedent of electroclash (hether you consider that movement to have been a good thing or not isn't Devo's fault, by the way) and genre-benders like the Scissor Sisters, LCD Soundsystem, Nine Inch Nails and the like.
To pull off such a layered concept, where old men bounce around the stage in kneepads and short shorts after shedding matching vinyl yellow suits, the performers' confidence must be absolute. And dare I say there's not a performer more convinced of his and his cohorts' capacity to entertain than the indefatigable Mothersbaugh, whose non-Devo exploits have been dominated by very successful forays into Hollywood as a score-man (fittingly, he's Wes Anderson's go-to guy in this department). What song Devo is playing is almost secondary: their performance is so high energy, so otherworldly, so weird, and so engrossing that it's impossible not to be swallowed whole into their very peculiar aesthetic.
But, man oh man, don't take this to mean they aren't skilled musicians. Melody, by design, has never been the outfit's strong suit, but I'll be damned if "Gates of Steel," which closed last nigth's set before an extended encore that featured Mothersbaugh dressed in a plastic "Booji Boy" (thanks to commentators for setting me straight here) suit and singing in the voice of a prepubescent tyke, wasn't as glorious and majestic an onstgage translation that I've seen all year. It was like the rocket ship had finally left Puyallup, the buildup to that point so expertly paced and planned. You could tell by the grin on Mothersbaugh's face that he'd succeeded in his mission to take the sticks by storm.