Devo Week – Day 3: Hardcore Devo

To celebrate the upcoming release of our 104th 33 1/3 on  Freedom of Choice, we’re pleased to bring you the third installment of Devo week by author Evie Nagy!

Even in the 20 year gap between Devo’s most recent two albums (1990’s Smooth Noodle Maps and 2010’s Something For Everybody), the band reunited periodically to tour or record one-offs. There’s always been a sense that Devo could be done for good at any moment, but there’s always something that brings them back together.

When guitarist/keyboardist/engineer Robert “Bob 2” Casale passed away unexpectedly in February 2014, Devo and their fans deeply mourned his loss. Not only was he Jerry’s brother, and universally regarded as a warm, generous person, but he was an original member who had played on and been integral to the production of every Devo album. Some fans wondered if Bob’s loss could also mean the real end of the band.

[youtube]As last year was the band’s 40th anniversary, plans had been under way for a very different kind of tour to celebrate: a series of concerts that would include only the music from Devo’s experimental demos from 1974-1977, before they’d even released an album. No “Whip It,” no “Girl U Want,” no “Beautiful World”–only rarely performed songs like “Mechanical Man,” “Midget,” and “Bamboo Bimbo,” unreleased until Hardcore Devo Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 in 1991, reissued in 2013. The only nod to their more well-known work would be those original Hardcore Devo demos that were re-recorded for debut album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, like “Mongoloid” and “Jocko Homo.” Those pre-album years were critical to Devo’s artistic development, and Mark even told me that he would have loved for Something For Everybody to be recorded in the raw, experimental style of their earliest work.

Thankfully, instead of canceling the tour after Bob’s death, Devo made it into a tribute to him and a fundraiser for his family. All 10 shows were true to the pre-album parameters from start to finish, and they were triumphs. The Oakland show (my hometown show, which I went to at the dead middle point of writing this book) was filmed for a recently released Devo Hardcore Live! DVD. After that summer 2014 tour, Devo opened a few shows on Arcade Fire’s tour, and played once in New York and twice in Chile for festivals, but as of 2015 have not toured nor made any plans to. It’s hard to believe that that could be the end, because it never has been yet–but right now no one, including I think the band, really knows. But if they end where they began, with these Harcore Devo performances, there would be much worse ways to go out.

– Evie Nagy

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