Perhaps it’s because they’ve gotten older – haven’t we all? – and over the years they’ve gotten rounder and a bit mellower…
Or maybe it’s because the rest of the music world has finally caught up with their sound, and they no longer sound so utterly unique…
On Saturday night at Northern Lights, Devo just didn’t seem to have the old snap, crackle ‘n’ zing that they doled out in the early days of their devolutionary process.
And for the most part that was OK, because after all, Devo has always been as much a conceptual art project as it is a band. But in all honesty, a little bit of Devo seems to go a long way.
Mark Mothersbaugh’s sing-songy declamatory style of vocalization wears thin pretty fast without some powerhouse musical punch behind him. And while newcomer-drummer Jeff Friedl packed a pretty serious wallop, the rest of the band seemed to smooth-out too many of the rough, angular edges and spastic herky-jerky rhythms of Devo’s signature sound. Hell, there were even honest-to-goodness vocal harmonies during “Mongoloid.”
As marketing savvy as usual, the band tried to make up for it visually. There were a lot of costume changes (especially loved the tear-away yellow jumpsuits, which they tossed out into the crowd, piece by piece) and a truly impressive, wrap-around, floor-to-ceiling digital video screen that continually bombarded the crowd with a barrage of image overload.
Musically, the band flexed its muscles with “Girl U Want” (with its wonderfully wiggly synth lines), the taut “Uncontrollable Urge,” the frantic freakout of “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA” led by Gerald Casale and the final encore of “Beautiful World” with a special guest appearance by Booji Boy. And guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh (aka Bob1) took top vocal honors for the night with his take of “Secret Agent Man.”
Maybe it’s too much to expect something more from a band that’s just come back with their first album in 20 years. Or perhaps it’s wrong to expect anything, really. As Devo sang early in their 85-minute show on Saturday, “What we do is what we do ’cause all we do is what we do.”
Photographs by Joe Putrock
Kirsten Ferguson’s review in Metroland
Michael Eck’s review in The Times Union
An excerpt from Brian McElhiney’s review in The Daily Gazette: “But the show’s undeniable climax was ‘Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA,’ the only time that the band really stretched its musical muscles in a full-scale jam. Bob1 owned this song, slamming out two gloriously atonal guitar solos as his bandmates continued to bash away, by this point in their underwear.”
DEVO SET LIST
Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)
What We Do
Girl U Want
Secret Agent Man
Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA
Gates of Steel
Freedom of Choice