Devo’s peculiar strain of art-rock, informed by what they saw as the ‘de-evolution’ of society, was incubated in a dank basement between 1974-’77. As keyboardist Mark Mothersbaugh puts it, the songs they hatched there were “raw and unfiltered, with no commercial intent.”
This compelling live document from last summer, filmed at the Fox Theatre in Oakland, California, serves as a celebration of those early years and also as a tribute to their late bandmate Bob Casale, who died in February 2014. What’s immediately apparent is that Devo continue to get a kick from performance art, be it perusing a 1974 edition of The Louisville Times (Nixon’s on his way out and that nice Gerald Ford will surely save America’s skin), doing syncopated jumps in matching janitor gear or singing through masks. Plus there’s an appearance by Mothersbaugh’s alter ego Booji Boy, now consigned to pushing a stroller in a pink jumpsuit.
Of course, all this stagecraft would count for nothing were they not also musically glorious. These strange, twitchy songs about turmoil and adolescence – satirical commentaries on the flawed nature of being human – are even more striking given that they now emanate from the bodies of pensionable blokes. Mechanical Man is all terse guitar and wibbly keyboards. The brilliant I Been Refused is Bo Diddley through the prism of Mid-West agit-punk. The stop-start riff of Jocko Homo sounds like a proggy precursor to Flaming Lips. Midget, meanwhile, is the best song about a baby with a man’s brain that you’ll ever hear.
The entire thing is bolted together by fresh interviews with the band. Arguably the best moment here is when bassist Gerald Casale recalls having to play their minimal-wave version of Satisfaction for Mick Jagger, the Stone insisting they seek his approval before letting them put the tune on an album. He loved it, apparently. And, like most everything else on this DVD, it still sounds bloody good today.