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Royal Festival Hall, London 19 June 2007
With their synth driven electro pop firmly steeped in the 80's and with their biggest hits inextricably tied to a string of ground breaking video releases, you could be forgiven for wondering just where Devo might fit into the changed world of 2007? The answer of course is that band's brand of muscular electro pop was always aligned to some biting satire, and as a result their music was always more than the sum of a few repeated synth lines and hooks. And what better context than the Jarvis Cocker curated Southbank 'Meltdown' to remind the world of Devo's De-evolutionary message?
Opening with their early career spoof party political broadcast film, featuring Robert Mothersbaugh as 'General Boy' extolling the virtues of the 'New Traditionalist Spirit', Devo soon appeared in the flesh in their startling yellow chemical fall out suits and red energy domes. Their combination of snappily choreographed robotic marches with an avalanche of bass heavy alt. disco beats and some impressive percussive bluster from drummer Josh Freese, brought the 'Devotees' to their feet.
Some of the big hitters came early, notably the enthusiastically received 'Whip It' and the impressive, hard industrial metallic beats of 'Girl You Want', while they almost rocked out old school style, complete with a Mothersbaugh moog solo on 'Secret Agent Man'. But the song's chanted refrain, 'They've given me a number, but they've taken away my name. I got one hell of a job to perform, for the U. S. of A', never quite let the dance beats divorce themselves from their absurdist De-evolutiona ry context.
The Stones 'Satisfaction' was given the deconstructionist treatment with Mark Mothersbaugh delivering his vocal lines like an old blues singer over some very fractured bars. The enthusiastic Mothersbaugh then narrowly missed the drummers head with two oversize orangey pom poms on the punky 'Mongoloid', while Gerald Casale waited until well into the show before dredging up the band's call and response mission statement, 'Q: Are We Not Men? A: We are Devo!'
And as the band stripped down to black T-shirts, boxer shorts and hockey style knee supports, and the energy levels rose, they saved themselves from resembling a middle aged aerobics work out, by means of some unrelenting on-stage activity, cute visual gags and above all straight to the vein songs all rigorously delivered in character.
The riff driven 'Uncontrollable Urge' for example, brought woops of delight from the crowd as the two sets of brothers came together in a brilliantly choreographed two step. But this was after all a rock show and even Devo know the importance of a big finish, evoking a U2 style arena finale with 'Gates of Steel'. The show finished with a visual projection of the band in Olympian style complete with corporate logo and shades.
But there was more to come, including a few fleeting musical references from surf music to a brief rendition of their corporate anthem. The repeated riffs and catchy hooks of 'Freedom of Choice' proved as insistent as the song's uncompromising message, while Gerald added his own version of Rap on the lyrical ups and downs of 'Wiggly World'
With no new product since 1990 this was always going to be a case of dusting off some gems, and introducing some new potential converts to the idiosyncrasies of Devo. And on the evidence of this show there surely will be more new fans as the band finished with Mark Mothersbaugh dressed as Boogie Boy for the poignant 'It's A Beautiful World'. Sung in falsetto, the ballad is an apparent metaphor for our collective infantile regression, and made for an unsettling but climactic finish to a quite unique show.
Review by Pete Feenstra
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