Devo - London Forum

by John Bownas | 12 May 2009

‘Are We Not Men? We Are Devo’ is the play through album de Jeur that marks Devo’s entry into the current tradition of comeback bands who are proving to the world that they come from a generation when the long-player was a crafted art form in its own right.

No one is alone in being unsure what to expect as the hour creeps nigh. There’s a hum in the air of keen expectation (or is it black hair dye) from a crowd that spans at least three generations. What everyone hopes for is an experience – something to rekindle a spark that, for many, may have almost gone out as the years have faded the flame. What is for certain is that there is real love in the building. For only love could make the wearing of all those bright red plastic hats (sorry – ‘energy domes’) such an unselfconscious act.

But should the alarm-bells have been ringing for anyone who claimed to be disappointed with what turns out to be a set that falls short of an hour, the original LP ran to no more than about 35 minutes, so what should you expect?

We first get a ten-minute video intro (‘Joko Homo’ and ‘Secret Agent Man’) courtesy of Booji and General Boy from the ‘We’re All Devo’ compilation. And the addition of encore songs ‘Smart Patrol’, and ‘Gates of Steel’ top and tail the live journey through the original Brian Eno produced ‘Are We Not Men?’ recording. These additions do bolster the set, but at £30 a ticket perhaps fans could have counted on more?

And it’s hard to suspend disbelief and ignore the fact that the band are no bunch of spring chickens. Rather gnarled old roosters with pension fund worries and golf carts parked in the double garage next to the Lexus.

Certainly any gig-hardened forty-something here will be torn between these niggling objective critical instincts and a life-long ‘Devo’tion to the spuds, who tonight are as tight as a gnats nethers; note-perfect and impeccably choreographed in their traditionally minimalistic schlock-shock style.

But Mark – why have you suddenly turned into The Mean Fiddler’s Melvin Benn? That is a tremendously scary look!

The set whirls past at lightspeed. Boiler suits that are several sizes larger than in ages past are ripped and shredded, revealing utilitarian black band t-shirts, unbecoming gym shorts and style-challenging shin-pads.

Each song is a free-kick set piece, allowing new formations to erupt and giving each of the band their moment to shine. Mark Mothersbaugh switches effortlessly from front-man duties to keyboard wizard, and the whole mechanical, discordant bombastic monolith that is Devo conjures the spell that shouldn’t work but does. And that’s the real magic.

Before us then is a group who were early and influential proponents something radically different – acolytes of the church of the sub-genius. A band with an ironic mission statement and supreme over-confidence in their own twisted philosophy. A band who stood up and got themselves counted for something that seemed to matter. Lords of their own bizarre, self-created Dadaistic world. Their music was always more than just a series of songs – it was a critical statement of intent. A controversial lambaste of society and the production-line state of human existence in a material world.

Music about something and with a purpose.

So where does tonight fit in the lexicon of live shows? Too short by far certainly, but crammed with passion and quality none the less. If you didn’t get it then you’d have hated it, but perhaps this is a case of less being more. And after all, many of those here tonight will be off to the All Tomorrow’s Parties’ Devo greatest hits show in a couple of days, so they probably don’t really care. Look out for the new studio album (‘Fresh’) in your iTunes store-window shortly.

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Photographer: Sara Bowrey

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