Devo @ QPAC, Brisbane, 29.11.2023
Ahead of their appearance at the Good Things festival, Devo have thoughtfully booked a series of stand-alone shows for their fans to catch them without having to stand around in 35-degree heat surrounded by thousands of Limp Bizkit fans. The venue is QPAC and it’s all seated, not often the best set up for a band that has a lot of high energy, danceable material but it also makes sense as a setting for their farewell retrospective show, the heavy visual element and costume changes making it already feel halfway to being a theatre piece.
As Devo are announced over the PA the screen shows an old promo clip from 1980 featuring a record executive pleading with the band to sell Devo dolls and to start making more hits. The video cuts to the same record executive in the modern day lamenting that they could be at Kid Rock’s level if they had listened to his advice. It’s a brilliant intro that shows their ironic self-awareness of their place in pop culture. Devo arrive in suit jackets and trousers and there’s massive applause and anticipation from the hundreds of energy-dome laden fans who have taken advantage of one of the longest merch lines I’ve ever seen.
They kick off with the most recent song of their set, 2010’s “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)” which is replete with hypnotising visuals with the song lyrics and animated characters flashing on the screen. They run through “Peek-a-Boo” and “That’s Good” from their 1982 album Oh No It’s Devo and it’s a high energy start but the crowd atmosphere hits a new peak when the opening riff of “Girl U Want” begins and they tear through a suite of classics from Freedom of Choice. “Whip It” and “Planet Earth” are played perfectly and with an energy not typically expected of a veteran band of 50 years. They never feel like a band going through the motions or phoning it in, as the joy of playing together as a band is apparent throughout the set. Portions of the crowd leave their seats to stand in the aisles so they can dance away to all their early career highlights.
After “Planet Earth”, Devo leave the stage as a reimagined Carl Sagan video plays out which considers Devo’s trivial place among the whole of the cosmos before they re-emerge in their classic late 70’s era yellow jumpsuits. The unmistakable malfunctioning drumbeat of “Satisfaction” kicks in and they run through a perfect rendition of the disjointed, anxious Stones’ cover, with Mark Mothersbaugh’s frantic delivery giving it the desperate yearning that subverts the original so well. It becomes clear that they’ve broken their set into the different eras and styles throughout their 50 year run and this part of the set is dedicated to their early days through their first two albums in which they went from being booed off the stage at tiny venues, freaking out audiences and causing hostility and confusion wherever they went to attracting major label interest and gaining huge admirers like Brian Eno and David Bowie. The fact that they are now taking part in a 50-year anniversary tour in a packed theatre demonstrates how unlikely and absurd their journey has been. Few bands have managed to hold together such a deliberately confrontational and bizarre approach to their art and maintain such widespread adoration and popularity at the same time.
“Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA” is the song I was looking forward most to seeing tonight and was delighted to hear the opening sputtering synth line kick in. It’s a chaotic drawn-out medley that changes tune every minute or so and at this point I wish it wasn’t a seated gig because it’s hard to appreciate it enough while not being able to move around and dance awkwardly. After “Gut Feeling”, Mark Mothersbaugh leaves the stage as an announcement is made that Booji Boy will be joining them on stage for a final song. Mothersbaugh reappears in the Booji Boy mask and costume and delivers a grating, high-pitched shrieking version of “Beautiful World” which is drawn out into repeating choruses and bizarre synth freakouts before ending on the iconic, resentful line “It’s a beautiful world for you, not me”. It was a fittingly absurd and hilarious end to the show and capped off a fantastic multimedia performance that surely met or exceeded all the expectations of even the most seasoned Devo fans.