why devo might be the best argument for a band that gets old to continue to play songs together

devo, tom tom club, dan deacon @ mccarren pool june 26

thursday proved to be more interesting than thursdays usual tend to be with performances by devo, tom tom club, and dan deacon.  well, maybe not tom tom club.

after paying a whopping $58 (!) dollars at the door, I arrived at a nearly empty mccarren pool.  it is a mammoth area, larger than most community pools I’ve experienced, and of course dilapidated, as most abandoned structures are.  paint peeled from the bottom of the pool (which never dipped below six feet deep), graffiti warmed the oddly-placed cylindrical structures jutting out from the sides.  in essence, your typical LiveNation venue.

dan deacon was just starting off his incredibly short set with “the crystal cat.”  the crowd surrounding dan’s table was an odd mix:  devo dads who seemed disinterested; hipsters trying their damnest to have a good time; photojournalists; toddlers.  dan didn’t seem to notice the mixed audience–he was too busy fucking killing it, despite the raw deal he was getting from the sound guys (half his sound was from his front speakers, half from the stage–gave the sound a weird echo).

the highlight of the set for me came about halfway through with “snake mistakes.”  dan cleared everybody back into a large circle and pulled out one hipster who was dancing incredibly hard and had this exchange.

dan: how’s it going?
hipster:  great, man.
dan:  okay, here’s what’s happening:  we’re all dying from a terrible poison–
hipster:  okay.
dan:  we don’t have long to live.  and you, you have come running back with the sole antidote.
hipster:  cool.
dan:  so you need to reach out your hand and high-five everyone here–everyone, stick out your arms–in order to give them the antidote.  but you need help handing it out, so you need to grab one person and have them run with you.  and then they’ll grab someone, and they’ll grab someone, 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, until we’re all running.

so we all went for a brisk run.  personally, I got a bit overzealous and snatched up five or six people, but it was the same effect.  some dickhead kept holding out his hand and raising it before someone could grab it, so somebody grabbed him by the waist and pulled him along.  I have never seen a person so legitimately shocked to be touched by another human.

dan deacon’s appeal is not his music, but in the interaction of people enjoying the sounds that he’s making.  the music is secondary (although still fabulous) to the experience of listening to music with other people and expressing it through various outlets.  in this case, it was going for a group run, or building a human tunnel throughout mccarren pool.  it was not just a concert, but an experience; not just a performance, but a mood enhancer.

tom tom club was boring and a huge let down and that’s all I’ll say about tom tom club.

devo started their show with a gigantic video display showing the history of devo.  they graced the stage wearing their yellow jumpsuits and red power ziggurats with grand aplomb, strapping on their instruments and instantly launching into music.  it was a big mess (I mean a really big mess); hit laid way to b-side, b-side belied hit.  “whip it” was the third song, “freedom of choice” and “gut feeling,” the closers.  it was a mix of expected and surprising, angsty and joyous.

the shocking part of the entire performance was that they sounded exactly as they did in the 80s–vibrant, youthful, coy, raw.  although “satisfaction” was just a hair slower than it was on the SNL video way back in the long, long ago, devo still played it was flawless voice and timing.  they moved in unison, with mark jutting around from guitar to keys to pom poms to boojie boy costume to back again.  even though these guys are like, what, fifty?  they’re still outclassing and of higher stamina than most of the bands they’ve influence–so much for de-evolution.

also interesting was the crowd’s intense mixture:  dads, moms, grandmothers, son, hipsters, preps, punks, cowboy hat guys (maybe just hipsters-double-irony?), nerds, muscleshirt clad frat guys–they all came to give the past a slip.  kids were jumping up and down with their parents.  it speaks of the universal qualities of devo’s music.  the themes of disillusion with the present and the uncertainty one might feel about the future speak intergenerationally and thus each generation discovers devo with different yet similar ears and experiences.  and this is all possible because devo refuses to be placed on the shelf that popular music has always tried to place it on–the kitschy and the unnecessary.

but in doing so, the idea of de-evolution has failed–music has evolved and can’t move backwards.



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