DEVO at the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, July 1st 1979
"In Heaven, Everything is fine," sang Booji Boy, Devo's baby-masked symbol of infantilism, at the climax of the band's first large-stage show in the Los Angeles area. Maybe so, but one was left with the uneasy feeling that everything is not quite so fine with the five potatoheads in Akron's Smart Patrol.
Devo's show bore all the orgiastic earmarks of a Nuremburg rally for spudboys. The noisy, ebullient fans, some of whom dressed in the bright yellow Devo uniforms being sold in the lobby, screamed with glee at the groups propaganda films, aped singer Mark Mothersbaugh's twitching mock-fascist salutes during "Praying Hand," loudly chanted "We are Devo!" throughout the chorus of "Jocko Homo" and stood in reverential silence as the "Devo Corporate Anthem" played. About the only thing missing from the pageantry was a stage setting by Nazi architect Albert Speer.
Regrettably missing from the evening's music was the sense that Devo has anything in the least to say. The band's theory of de- evolution, the Darwinism-in-reverse that posits man's return to a simian state, sounds windy, contrived and empty these days. Devo's songs, albeit clever, are basically a series of simply conceits, and repeated exposure to the band's music only serves to expose its hollowness and the absence of any real emotion.
Devo's stage show is undeniably effective as undemanding entertainment. The group had the audience in an uproar throughout the ninety-minute set, whipping through nearly twenty songs with unmodulated and brain-numbing speed. Six short movies by Chuck Statler and four costume changes served as change-ups in the manic pace. In terms of purely manipulative spectacle, only Kiss' stage show exacts a comparable response. Indeed, Devo - the band that many believed would become the most intelligent and acute of the Eighties cult units - appears ready, and willing, to become the Kiss of the middlebrows.
The first-rate musicianship of guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh and drummer Alan Myers was rapidly submerged in an atmosphere of smugness and cynicism. In the end, the show became an exercise in string pulling - calculated and devoid of warmth. The band's contempt for the crowd became more apparent with each jerk of the audience's cord, with the night's final encore constituting Devo's ultimate triumph of the will. Midway through "In Heaven, Everything Is Fine," Booji Boy (Mark Mothersbaugh in costume) launched into a chilling monologue, inviting the audience to "become one of the beautiful mutants of the future... Later on," he continued in his reedy voice, "we'll get together and kill all the normal people."
Any irony in this speech was wasted on the group's fans, who jumped, shrieked and cheered with glassy-eyed fervor. At that frightening moment, at least one terrified witness realized that he'd danced the Poot in Spudland with Devo for the very last time.
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