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Published: 2004/10/30
by Benjy Eisen

Devo- Live From the Land of the Rising Sun

In 1972, when a group of art students decided to form a concept band, based on the idea that the quality of life in America was regressing, they chose the name Devo to reflect the notion of "de-evolution." Consumer culture had devolved the individual experience to a robotic, predictable, soul-less lifestyle. Devo’s twitching, rhythmically rigid music was presented with matching outfits; their stage show was a statement that we had all become mass-society clones.
As much as Devo was built upon an idea of regression, musically the group was progressive. Participants in the "New Wave" scene (which included such groups as the Talking Heads and the B-52’s), they were forerunners of the electronic movement, and employed self-made synthesizers and electronic drums long before either instrument was common in pop music.
You remember "Whip It!" The video, which was a hit on MTV, delivered Devo’s message perfectly. That was 1980. The message hasn’t changed since. While the conceptual stylization that saturates their performance on this 2003 performance DVD is still relevant in many ways (that being the total mechanization of modern societal life, et cetera), the reality is that Devo are staging the same show they did twenty years ago. They’ve neither evolved nor devolved they’ve stagnated. And that’s a fate worse than death a fact that the band themselves acknowledge in one of the interview segments on the disc, where the band admits that a modern-day Devo performance is a bit "like going to a museum."
Still, Live in the Land of the Rising Sun is not without its charms. The feature, a live concert filmed in Japan in 2003, runs through Devo’s expected catalog ("Whip It!" "Girl U Want," and their still-clever take on "Satisfaction") with interview segments sprinkled throughout. These clips prove my point the band members come across as one of your best friends’ dad. They are a bit old to be wearing the same "Energy Dome" hats that they created as a gag in their collegiate days. The band was once immersed in popular culture and therefore at liberty to mock it but they are now entertainers from the past. They’re no longer familiar with the frontline. And, as if predicting that the DVD would get reviews such as this one, they tackle the irony themselves, beating the reviewers (myself included) to the punch. They know that Devo is an old dog without any new tricks, yet performing to an enthusiastic sold-out audience. They say as much in the interviews. The audience is not only thirty younger than the musicians they’re also from another country entirely. And they all seem eager to devolve. For the band’s part, they no longer need to pretend that they represent a retroactive culture. The irony just keeps getting thicker.
But above irony, the show captured here is simply a shadow of the band at their peak. I do believe that, even without a single new song or dance, Devo could arguably deliver a highly entertaining one-night-only live show. A late-night set at Bonnaroo, for instance, would be legendary. But to capture this nostalgia act on DVD confuses the nostalgia for the thing we’re all nostalgic for. On DVD, we want the young Devo, the fresh Devo, the thin Devo the Devo before they themselves Devoed. If they released a concert from 1980, when the band was at their best, then we’d have a viable product worth getting excited over. Or if they, you know, took up Segways (as they threaten to here) and added a few new plays to their game to make it relate more to the 2000s than the 1980s. And with that thought, I hearby challenge Devo to devolve the new evolution. Not that they or their agents or any representative thereof will read this review, but regardless, I openly defy them to become relevant once more. The post-TRL world sure could use it. Although I’ve got to wonder do they even know what "TRL" was?

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