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Saturday, June 3, 2017

DEVO - "Live" The Mongoloid Years" CD, Album, U.S., 1992 (Rykodisc)


Dealing with my father's death in 1976 was a huge cloud over me.  As for my musical taste at the time, I was looking for a new beginning to get out of the old narrative that was my life.   Not a teenager anymore but barely an adult, I embraced the Punk ethics with a degree of conviction on my part.   Especially for those bands/artists who wanted to start over again and work from ground zero and on up.  I can quickly forget my past music heroes such as The Beatles, The Stones and everyone else (except Bowie, I was and am a devoted fan). So something like Sex Pistols appealed to my sense of new, although in truth, there was nothing that new, after all, it's rock n' roll.  As for myself, I was drowning with my past, and I needed something new to feel alive again.  DEVO came to Los Angeles in 1976, and I discovered their music when I purchased an independent 45 rpm single that they put out on their Booji Boy Records.  I remember buying the recording at Bomp Records in the Valley.   The music was harsh, yet dynamic and with an incredible machine-like rhythm.  The sound I was looking for! 

When my friend and I saw them at the Starwood, which I believe was their first appearance in Los Angeles, there was a very small audience.  I saw a few faces that I knew, but I have heard that Iggy Pop was there as well.  Nevertheless, it was and still is, the most incredible concert I have ever been to.  Their intensity and stagecraft were superb.  It was like that they were attached to some electrical force of some sort, and someone turned the switch on.   Throughout 1976 and 1977, I must have seen this band live at least a dozen times. 

The one outstanding musician was their drummer Alan Myers.  He played like a machine, but one with a heart.  Truly he was one of the great drummers on this planet.  You can hear his genius on this album "DEVO LIVE."  When they made their record with Brian Eno, which in theory, is a perfect combination, I was deeply disappointed.  The songs were great, but what went missing was the intensity of their performance.    It seemed like the air in the recording studio was vacuumed out and replaced with a sleeping drug-like ingredient of some sort.   If I weren't so familiar with their live show, I would probably love this album.  But alas, I knew both worlds of DEVO, and this Warner Brothers album is not a good representation of their work.  On the other hand, "DEVO LIVE" recorded between the years 1975 and 1977 is a remarkable document of the band's work but also captures their magnetic intensity.  For me, it is probably one of the great live rock recordings.  And the only great record from DEVO. 

DEVO I feel is a live presentation.  Them in the studio I feel they are in constraints by perhaps technology (which is ironic)  or too much interference from their various producers.  I hear the songs but not the sweat or heart of the band.  I also love their concept of the world to a certain point.  I never felt that they were fair to the female side of the world.  They seemed to be very male orientated, which I found troubling.   On the other hand, I loved their independence.  If I were there manager or advisor, I would have told them never sign to Warner Brothers.  Keep your own record label and just do live recordings.   Make and publish your own books, and make your films without any interference from the outside world.  This, of course, would cause financial ruin, but alas, that is just me. 

Rykodisc put out this magnificent live album on CD, and it serves as a document, but again, it's the dynamic of their music at the time and the way they performed it.  Their sense of theater were both disturbing and seductive.   To be in their audience at the Starwood and other nightclubs was really a fantastic once-in-a-lifetime experience.  The live recording is the real deal.