Saturday, April 25, 2015

DVD Review: DEVO – The Men Who Make the Music / Butch Devo & the Sundance Gig

Text © Robert Francos / FFanzeen, 2015
Images from the Internet

DEVO – The Men Who Make the Music / Butch Devo & the Sundance Gig
Directed by Chuck Statler and Gerald V. Casale
 MVD Visual
114 minutes, 1981 / 2014
I’m sure there are going to be those who are interested in this mix of live and video footage, but I’m going to do something rare and actually start with the bonus film, called Butch Devo and the Sundance Gig. This is a 65-minute live concert the band did in nearly two decades ago in 1996, at the overhyped (sorry but it’s true, Redford) Sundance Film Fest.

Introduced and patted down by Robert Rodriguez film star Cheech Marin (much more interesting to me than that stoner “comedy” duo he was in), Devo appears on stage in 1920’s prison uniforms and jumps right into the music.

With both standard instrument, some cool ones (Gerald Casale’s headless bass), and some modified (three pedals embedded directly onto Mark Mothersbaugh’s guitar), the troupe (including the late Bob Casale, d. 2014) keep their classic dit-dit-dit sound as they pound through their bigger and lesser known repertoire. The concert lasts more than an hour, and is filled with flights of fancy, some theatrics and non-dance choreography, and other madness. To me, this is more of what makes this DVD enjoyable. I just sat back and enjoyed the show, which was visually decent and had a clear sound taken straight off the boards.

I never noticed before just how much their material is in some sideways way similar to They Might Be Giants, but with more of a lean towards the industrial and less in the Bohemian. Both groups like to take the unusual road and, again use theatrics, though TMBG feels more organic and less rehearsed. Also, I hadn’t realized how much of Devo’s sound is actually centered on drummer extraordinaire Josh Freese.

The crowd is enjoyable to watch as well. There isn’t much moshing or stagediving as much as pogoing, but it’s interesting to see people body surfing to songs like “Mongoloid” (query: why does Mothersbaugh grab his own crotch every time the lyric “Brings home the bacon” comes up?).

Yeah, the usual mix-up of their songs like “Satisfaction,” “Everybody Wants a Good Thing,” and “Whip It” makes their presence, but that doesn’t mean it’s all predictable. For example, they do a slow, emo version of “Jacko Homo” while sitting on stools.

Of course, Booji Boy makes an appearance at the end.

The main feature is 49-minute glom of music videos (all of which had been collected in a previous DVD release called The Truth About De-Evolution, released originally in 1993, and then released in 2014; reviewed HERE), and varied live performances from 1978 through 1979. The boys are a lot younger, obviously, and much more mobile onstage. Yes, they still moved quite well in 1996, but by that show, they were around 50 years old, as opposed to being in the late 20s/early 30s, so energy levels are definitely different. Also, Mothersbaugh has kept his voice, which is easily identifiable, but it was much stronger in the early footage.

A lot of the live songs from 1996 are also performed in the early 1978-79 footage, such as “Praying Hands,” which again makes interesting comparisons. Truthfully, most of the music video footage was okay, but it’s same-old-same-old that I’ve seen before (and yes, I did sit through all of it again); it’s the live performance that make this for me. In all, they wear their now iconic yellow jumpsuits (aka onesies) and/or black shorts and tees as they jerk around the stage.

Whether you like Devo or not, and I do to some extent, their musicianship is undeniable, such as those mentioned above, and I also need to give credit to guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh, who sadly has a tendency to be drowned out by the electronica.

Which brings me to the next thing: when Devo first struck it big, they actually had a very large influence on mainstream music (thanks in part of constant rotation on MTV), being one of the forerunners of the ‘80s sound that would mix pop, electronic and industrial together, in the same way Blondie was in the lead bringing punk into vanilla pop overproduction. While Devo became famous talking about De-Evolution, they actually revolutionized radio, and also brought then-futuristic technology (computers, for example) into their media. Even more ironically, in rear-view mirror looking, the quality of the images here are not that great, being shot on video in the pre-HD world, including the 1996 footage which looks better, but is still a bit muddy.

This is an interesting collection of old and new, live and video, and if you’re a D-E-V-O fan, it’s a M-U-S-T have.

Song List:
Jocko Homo (Music video, taken from "The Truth About De-evolution")
General Boy 1 (talking video)
Wiggly World (Live)
General Boy 2 (talking video)
The Day My Baby Gave Me a Surprise (Music video)
Roll Out the Barrel (AKA "Rod Rooter's Big Reamer")
Praying Hands (Live)
General Boy 3 (talking video)
Uncontrollable Urge (Live)
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction (Music video)
General Boy 4 (talking video)
Jocko Homo (Live, partial performance)
Secret Agent Man (Music video, taken from "The Truth About De-evolution")
Smart Patrol / Mr. DNA (Live)
Come Back Jonee (Music video)
General Boy 5(talking video)
Red Eye (Live)
Devo Corporate Anthem (video)

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