Fun fact: There are three live performances of “Uncontrollable Urge” on DEVO – The Men Who Make The Music/Butch DEVO & The Sundance Gig from 1978, 1996, and 2003 respectively and both the dynamism and choreography haven’t changed a bit. Granted, the younger DEVO was a slimmer, trimmer band way back when that first LP was released, but the more spud-like shapes of the band-mates doesn’t slow them down one bit when it comes to delivering what’s still one of their most memorable hits.
If you’re new to the band or maybe not so new but haven’t yet seen them live, this set of eyeball and ear searing old stuff will show you DEVO’s originality and rather special craft that’s kept fans around through think and thin. With a new tour and cool crowdfunding project happening, MVD is helping bring these guys to a new audience that needs to listen to something other than the radio-ready junk that sells in lower and lower numbers each year…
MVD Visual has done up a VERY entertaining DVD here that’s a combination of the long out of print 1981 VHS tape (DEVO – The Men Who Make The Music) and a complete 1996 reunion concert given at that year’s Sundance Film Festival along with two bonus DEVO clips from a pair of MVD’s other DEVO video discs. The Men Who Make The Music is a bizarre “documentary” of sorts that combines six 1978 concert tour clips, the two videos from 1976’s “The Truth About De-evolution” and three music videos (from the band’s first LP) as it spools out the story of the band dealing with music industry pressures of the time. In all the weirdness, I’m gathering the band may have been having some issues with Warner Bros. Records trying to control it to some extent… or perhaps this was all done as a send-up of this sort of thing common to the industry. In any event, it’s a hoot to see the young spuds, Booji Boy and General Boy “face off” against Rod Rooter and pretty much not follow his dopey orders to stick with those yellow jumpsuits.
Then again, this particular film isn’t one you’ll want to even try to take seriously. Just sit back and enjoy the band’s innovation and still amazing mix of sounds that have been emulated but never duplicated. Watching this zapped me back to 1978 when I initially heard that first LP and was knocked off my feet even after listening to it daily for more than a month straight. As I’ve never seen the original VHS tape, I can’t compare quality and I think it’s a case where doing so is a big mistake. Overall, TMWMTM looks fine and yes, is dated in terms of being more VHS quality than super HD remastered up the nose or wherever an HD remaster goes. The old-school video vibe going on here makes for some thrilling viewing and I’m betting DEVO fans who’ve never seen this oldie until now will heartily agree.
That 1996 Sundance Gig is a total hoot because the older and thicker ’round the middle DEVO manages to blow away the audience of what looks like mostly younger fans. Dressed in black and white striped prison outfits and with a selection of its older songs, the energy here is even more infectious and impressive because of the tight playing and yep, familiar choreography as the band has at it and has fun doing it. In addition to classic DEVO tunes, there are a few reworked “EZ Listening” songs and a wild encore that brings back Booji Boy with a kind of nasty surprise for the audience that most likely wasn’t expecting “Beautiful World” sung in a high-pitched squeal before they were really surprised by the bit of business at the song’s end. From what I understand, early DEVO shows could be high-tension affairs between the band and audience and even club owners.
Video quality in the Sundance show varies thanks to a few different types of cameras intentionally being used and there seems to be a syncing issue with the audio and image on some songs, but overall I’d say fans will be grinning away as those hardcore DEVO classics ring out for all to hear. As for special features and bonuses, as noted above you get two clips from two of MVD’s other DEVO concert videos (this one and that one, so buy them both!) and there’s also a rehearsal from the Sundance show that’s worth a watch despite portions of it being sped through automatically. Of course, the full rehearsal at normal speed would have been pretty boring, but I know some people who like to sit through these and decide on their own when to hit that FF button. Still, you get some alternate takes of stuff done later on and it’s interesting to see how one song in rehearsal was interrupted by fans who shut down a guitar solo a wee bit too early.
Overall, this one’s another MVD Visual production that’s an instant BUY, as well as a nice little time capsule piece from the past that’s a blast for new and old DEVO fans alike.