There is probably nothing geekier than a group of middle-aged men performing absurd new wave music, while wearing yellow jumpsuits and red flower pots/"energy domes" on their heads. And that is why idea of Devo still works now without feeling tragic. Devo was always for the weirdest of us all. If there ever was a band created for those who didn’t really fit in to any niche, it was them.
While most people see the band as nothing more than a one hit wonder with a hilarious video ("Whip It’), Devo is actually one of the most original and influential bands in modern American music. Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, and Bob and Gerald Casale helped pioneer both arty new wave and the music video. Their sound seemed to stem from the electronic krautrock of Kraftwerk as well as the experimental absurd sounds of The Residents, but their product was something totally their own.
When they began performing, they were way ahead of their time in both their music and performance. Last night, performing in front of a crowd of devoted fans/"spuds" at Brooklyn’s McCarren Pool, they still sounded ahead of their time. Opening with a classic video presentation which acted as a nostalgia trip through the long history of Devo, the band only played for little over an hour. The hits were all there, but fans were obviously a little disappointed that they didn’t get more time with their favorite band after paying such a steep price. That steep price kept the casual fans at home, and left the venue far from overcrowded.
Devo’s last performance in New York came back in 2004, and though it was nearly destroyed by heavy rain, it was more memorable than last night’s. There were a few really great moments though. Their performance of "Gates of Steel" was electrifying. How that song never became a smash hit is beyond me. And easily the greatest highlight of the night came when Gerald Casale proposed the question "Are We Not Men?," resulting in the crowd response, "We Are Devo." Each time Casale asked the crowd, the response grew louder "We Are Devo!," in anticipation for Devo’s best song. Halfway through the brilliant "Jocko Homo," off came the yellow jumpsuits after Mark Mothersbaugh tore off pieces from each member’s outfit. The set ended too soon, and fans shouted for more, but the music must be over at 10pm at McCarren Pool, so the last little treat we received from the band was Mothersbaugh coming out as the masked "Booji Boy" and throwing us bananas and twizzlers.
Dan Deacon opened up the show early in the evening, opting to play from the ground rather than stage. With a lot of first timers in the crowd, it took Deacon a little longer than usual to get the crowd to warm up to him. Usually his performances are indoors and almost immediately turn into a dance party frenzy, but this crowd did not move so much. But the further he got into the performance, the more the "absurdist composer" was able to motivate the crowd towards participation. He utilized his large performance space, getting the crowd to form a large circle, and then soon enough nearly his entire audience was running in a circle, while he performed at his little table of electronics. It may have been a bit more challenging of a task than when he performs in front of his usual legion of fans, but Deacon must have felt great winning over a new crowd.
In between Dan Deacon and Devo’s equally bizarre performances, Tom Tom Club failed to impress. The ’80s band fronted by Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads fame just wasn’t very good. Their well-known hit "Genius of Love" was the one high point of the set.
During Tom Tom Club’s set, standing in the crowd, i noticed a puddle forming under a woman standing a few feet away from me. Sure enough, this woman was nonchalantly pissing a stream from under her skirt. When she was done, she pulled out tissues and blatantly reached right down the front of her skirt and wiped herself. Still in a state in disbelief that it happened, I can’t help but feel that was the most interesting thing I saw all night, even after seeing both Dan Deacon and Devo.
Photos by Jonny-Leather