Some things get better with age: wine, violins, Devo. Unlike other vintage rock acts, the Akron, Ohio New Wave satirists deserve their place on that particular short list. That much was made clear to the packed house at Hollywood's Henry Fonda Theater, who were there to witness the opening salvo of Devo's new tour.
You can't exactly call it a comeback -- the classic Devo lineup, plus A Perfect Circle/Weezer drummer Josh Freese, has been reunited since 1996 -- but the group has joined a recent spate of veteran bands hitting the road behind their seminal albums. On this road jaunt, lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh and co. will spend two nights in each city, devoting one show each to two Devo essentials: 1978's Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and 1980's Freedom Of Choice.
Up on this night: Are We Not Men. And despite all of its original members hovering around their 60s, Devo met the challenge of recreating its debut with stunning vigor. After screening its proto-music video, "The Truth About De-Evolution," the eternally quirky fivesome appeared in yellow jumpsuits and giant sunglasses, and launched into the herky-jerky rock'n'roller, "Uncontrollable Urge." The multi-instrumentalist brothers Mothersbaugh (Mark and Bob) and similarly-skilled brothers Casale (Gerald and Bob) popped their limbs and pogo'd like androids on the fritz, then ran headlong into their spasmodic Rolling Stones cover, "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," where skronky industrial guitars lorded over an alien groove.
Each tense, spiky song crashed gleefully into the next, creating an air equal parts urgent and ebullient. "Praying Hands" found the audience following Mark's yelps quite literally -- "You got you left hand! / You got you right hand!" -- resulting in a living momentary mash-up of a fascist rally and "The Hokey Pokey." For "Mongoloid," the singer produced pom-poms and cheered the band on from stage left; during the driving Devo anthem "Jocko Homo," he manned the synthesizers while his colleagues tore off their outerwear to reveal blacks shirts, shorts and, err, large kneepads.
But for all the fanfare and robotic aerobics, the most impressive facet of Devo's performance was how unbelievably hard the band rocked. Every song started huge and finished huge, not to mention played heavier, moved faster, blared louder and spazzed out more freely than its recorded counterpart. Even the relatively mellow alt-rock of "Gut Feeling" was given epic revivification before morphing into the total punk blitz of "(Slap Your Mammy)."
If there's one criticism to be leveled at this burlier Devo, it's that both Are We Not Men? and the "Whip It"-featuring Freedom Of Choice could easily fit into one evening's performance (that's less than 70 minutes of music all told). But tell that to the mixed gang of Gen X'ers and hipster youth who kicked up a mosh pit for the encore performance of "Secret Agent Man." Or the twentysomething fan who scoffed, "How can you not?" when asked if he was coming back for night two.
"(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"
"Too Much Paranoias"
"Gut Feeling" / "(Slap Your Mammy)"
"Come Back Jonee"
"Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin')"
"Watch Us Work It"
"Secret Agent Man"
"Gates Of Steel"