The newest entry into the Devo catalog starts with an opening crawl attempting to contextualize the concert which follows. Proclaiming “de-evolution is real”, the spudboys contrast the political climate of the day, when “a former actor in motion picture entertainment” ruled the land with his “oil-rich federation and fundamentalist Christian supporters”. The crawl continues: “On this night in 1980 Devo had no idea that history would prove their cautionary vision to be so frighteningly correct. Now, 25 years later, the reign of President Reagan seems in retrospect like a ray of sunshine compared to the present day rule of Emperor ‘W’ and his fellow fundamentalist enemies around the world.”
And this is just the kind of subversive approach you expect from a band born out of the industrial wasteland of the late ‘70s Rust Belt. Presenting the August 17, 1980 show from the Phoenix Theater in Petaluma, California on the Freedom of Choice tour, Music Video Distributors and Devo, Inc. have put together a package that not only captures Devo at their apex, but also serves as a snapshot of a moment in time.
Only the DVD portion of this Dual Disc release was accessible for review and, based on what was available, this is not a disc you purchase to show off your home theater. The video quality ranges from passable to unwatchable, but it’s forgivable based on the source material, age, and historical significance of the show. The audio fares better, lending a gritty overlay to the music. The simplicity of the industrial stage set up serves as a means to showcase the music—banks of lights from behind are the only distraction. Initially clad in their red energy domes and white jumpsuits, looking like refugees from a nuclear test site, the band rips through a 19-song main set that draws evenly from all three of their proper releases up to this point.
Although “Whip It” wasn’t released as a single until two months after the Petaluma show, the band had played it on their May 1980 appearance on ABC’s Fridays, so the crowd is familiar with it. The opening crawl of Devo - Live 1980 is shown over the “Freedom of Choice Theme Song” (curiously uncredited by Music Video Distributors), which blends immediately into “Whip It”, but despite the energy on stage and in the crowd, Devo seems to play the latter as if they are almost bored with it—as if they already know this song will one day be both their biggest hit and critical albatross. The band overcomes this unintentional misstep with energized run-throughs of the likes of “Snowball” and “It’s Not Right” and the deep album-cut “Swelling Itching Brain”. It’s here in particular that Mark Mothersbaugh’s agitated geek rock moves begin to tear away at his protective suit, leaving him, and the audience, in tatters—but begging for more—by song’s end.
As expected, “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” shines live. With Mothersbaugh on guitar for this one, his anxious, twitchy delivery is ratcheted up a notch from the already near-perfect studio version found on Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and you’re never really sure if this agitated, manic front man is going to reach fulfillment. By the time the band don their red tunics mid way through “Jocko Homo” (Jerry Casale in “D”, Bob 2 in “E”, Bob 1 in “V”, Mothersbaugh in “O”, and Alan Myers behind the drum kit), they prove to any holdouts in the crowd just what de-evolution is about with a preaching-to-the-converted edition of the song. Mothersbaugh works the crowd and the stage mercilessly through the call and response riddle of “O-hi-O” and “Are we not men?” The last song of the proper set, “Come Back Jonee”, is a completely different beast live, similar to the way “Cross-Eyed and Painless” is transformed at the end of fellow CBGB’s alum Talking Heads’ landmark concert movie, Stop Making Sense, four years later. Both the band and audience are at a frenzied peak.
The “encore” consists of film excerpts of General Boy accidentally beheading Booji Boy, who we next see in a chair with a doctor unwrapping the bandages on his new head. The movie screen rises and the newly reconstituted Booji Boy is live on-stage singing “Tunnel of Life”, and the show closes with the “Devo Corporate Anthem”.
According to the press release accompanying the advance copy, the proper Dual Disc edition will contain two 5.1 audio mixes to choose from: a Bob Casale Mix and a Big Round Sound mix. DVD bonus concert footage of “Praying Hands” and “Shrivel Up” by Devo’s alter-egos, Dove—The Band of Love, from the M80 Concert in 1980 is also scheduled for inclusion. The audio-only side is slated to incorporate just the Bob Casale Mix. In spite of the video quality, Devo - Live 1980 is a worthwhile addition to any spudboy’s collection for the remarkable fact that a record of the show even exists.
“We must repeat ‘D-E-V-O.’”