Are we not men? You be the judge.

Seems like old times...

Once more, with feeling.

I went to a DEVO concert last night.  I had seen them once before, but it was 35 years ago.  Gee, I wonder if they had changed.

Sure.  A couple of their guys had died.  And the loss of Bob2 was a particularly heavy blow.  But aside from all that, how was it?

First of all, you gotta give these guys credit for taking the stage at all in their mid-sixties.  I know, the Rolling Stones are even older and still trotting it out there with alarming regularity, but their pharmaceuticals are probably the best available on the planet.  I don’t think that’s DEVO’s bag.  And besides, they come from such different traditions.  The Stones, once Angry Young Men, can now rightfully claim to be Angry Old Men.  DEVO, on the other hand, were Cynical Young Men.  And Cynical Old Men just become…Republicans.

Attending this concert was completely impulsive.  I didn’t even know they were going to be in town, and when I found out yesterday I bought an online ticket.  I did read a blurb that mentioned they would only be doing material from 1974 to 1977, probably because they had lost the rights or couldn’t contractually play later stuff.  Whatever–they wouldn’t be the first band to sign a bad deal or lose their rights, and my favorite album was their first anyway, so…why not?

The difference between me today and me 35 years ago in Berkeley CA is that today, I really don’t mind blowing fifty bucks to satisfy an idle whim.  I’m older, too.

I told my nineteen-yr-old daughter that I was going to DEVO, and she said, “Really, Dad?  You?”

“Sure.  And how the hell do you know about DEVO?”

“They’re vintage!”

Great.  So am I.  Mark Mothersbaugh is a scant six years older than me.  Maybe I’ll be vintage someday.  Soon.

So away I went, to the Moody Theater downtown.  Which, by the way, is a venue I love.  It’s really hard to find a bad seat there, and believe me I have tried.  Last time I was there it was for Return to Forever.  I wasn’t expecting this evening to live up to that one, and I wasn’t disappointed.

Did that last sentence not make sense?  Sorry, here’s a refund.

First thing I noticed, staring down at the stage setup, sent an early warning signal.  Every mic had a stool behind it.  Oh good, a punk show where everyone in the band will be sitting down.  Also, the stage was set up to resemble a garage basement–as in, this will be an homage to the band’s earliest days, before they knew how to write decent songs.

And it turns out, that’s pretty much what the first half of the show was–obscurities and mediocrities.  The band tromped out in street clothes, took their seats <shudder>, fiddled around a bit, and launched into Mr. Roboto–a song they didn’t write.  Then, about six or seven more songs they did write, but shouldn’t have.  I considered slipping out.

But something made me stay.  Looking down at these four weary men from my vantage point in the upper balcony, I could see the heaviness in their bodies–the spread of shoulders that have been supple for six decades and are now starting to sag, separate from their framework and settle gently into the gravity of middle-age.  The mounting thickness of jowls and middles.  In short, their bodies looked like my own.  I just couldn’t walk out on them, no matter what godawful screeching they were coming up with down there.

But then, around the halfway point, something happened.  They did a wardrobe change onstage–a particularly ballsy maneuver considering they were struggling into their regulation jumpsuits (they had traded in their day-glo yellow in for a more understated powder blue) in front of the audience, and not particularly gracefully.  Meanwhile, stagehands flipped out the wall sections of the ‘garage’ to reveal banks of pulsating lights that would energize the rest of the set.  And then they launched into Satisfaction–another song they didn’t write, but claimed as their own some forty years ago.

And the show became great.

Not This-Is-So-Incredible great.  More like Looks-Like-They’re-Going-To-Salvage-It great.  But given their vintage, that was enough.

Some of the tunes from the second half included Be Stiff, Gut Feeling, Uncontrollable Urge, and their anthem Jocko Homo.  The band members no longer twitched like robots–well, maybe slower robots–but the music didn’t suffer.  The only time I winced was during Jocko Homo when Mothersbaugh clambered offstage to share the mic with the crowd during the “Are we not men?” call & response.  Not because it’s a hoary bit of stagecraft that’s been stale since the Catskills, but because, when it came time to remount the stage, he vaulted up two feet to roll forward on his belly, swing his legs up with some difficulty, and then struggle upright from a prone position.  Ouch.

The mostly-younger crowd ate it up.  Good for them for respecting their elders.

Meanwhile, I’m mulling how to work the word ‘vintage’ into our band name.  Are We Not Men?


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