Saturday, July 3, 2010

Review: Devo @ Hollywood Park Racetrack

INGLEWOOD, July 1 - We got to Hollywood Park just a few minutes before 9. Only that morning had I finally deciphered the strange sensation I'd felt for the entire week; it'd been so long since I'd looked forward to a concert that I'd forgotten what it felt like. I made it through the gate as the clock struck 9 and the admission price doubled. The smiley crowd behind us transformed into a frowning mob. In another blurt of nostalgia, I remembered why I hate shows so much.

The last time I'd been to something like this was five or six years ago, at a club across the street from the Capitol Records building in Hollywood. After I'd bought my ticket, I stepped through a metal detector. Before I'd known what was happening, a guy in a SERCURITY shirt had slipped a hand down my pocket, fished out a pen, and casually tossed it over his shoulder. I'd been parted with writing instruments before, but never with such dehumanizing disregard. If dogs had pockets and those pockets had pens, this would have been the same gesture one would make towards a dog. I must've grunted in protest, because SECURITY looked at me and said, "you don't want that, bro."

No one at the Hollywood Park Racetrack confiscated any pens (people need pens to mark up racing forms). But being in the presence of so many punky people at once gave me that 11th grade / Gonna Get Shanked With A Pen feeling. It was a weird kind of deja vu, lifted from my memories of California high schools as represented in 80's films. Upbeat people in sleeveless tux tops - and top hats, and Devo flowerpot hats - mingled with beaten people betting on horses. A fight seemed imminent. I weaved between thousands of plastic cups of beer seemingly poised to explode all over shirts and shoes. Since I wasn't betting on horses, I watched a race with the boredom of TV Nascar, waiting for a horrific crash and explosion.

I'd never seen Devo play live. I made a list of all the other bands and solo artists I'd had ample opportunities to see live but never did. It was a lot longer than I'd expected:

AC/DC
GG Allin
Bauhaus
The B-52s
Black Sabbath
Blondie
Butthole Surfers
Celtic Frost
James Chance
Circle Jerks
The Cramps
Cro-Mags
Fleetwood Mac
Foreigner
Gwar
PJ Harvey
Billy Idol
Judas Priest
Kraftwerk
Michael Jackson
Massive Attack
Paul McCartney
Metallica
Missing Persons
Nirvana
Ozzy Osbourne
The Police
Public Enemy
Queen
RUN-DMC
Scorpions
Slayer
Elliot Smith
Spinal Tap
Tom Waits

Sitting in the midst of a hooting beer bro-down, it was hard to tell if each of these bands represented a missed opportunity or a wise life decision.

Devo started in the distance. I walked and eventually found myself standing on the far edge of the crowd, next to a camouflaged drunk jitterbugging to himself. Behind the band, a screen - large, not massive - played their video works. Devo's post-Chuck Statler videos are kind of gruesome (think of the Dr. Detroit theme), but the visuals for "Get Fresh" - the first single off their new LP - were at least a decent homage to the band's 80's hits. Interestingly, this new video was modified for the live show, removing all the band members themselves. It seemed like the opposite of the jumbotron Van Halen played before in 2007. Having aged like normal people, no one in the band apparently wanted even their Phantom Of The Opera masked 2010 incarnations to jar the night's performance.

I'll admit it: I was harumphing right up until "Whip It" (song 5). Then, suddenly, I understood. Tens of billions of people have walked the Earth without the opportunity to hear this song. Far more may grow up and live entire lives without ever seeing it performed live. Somehow I hit the sweet spot. I found myself flooded with happiness, both for myself and for Devo. It was nice.

The moment passed, and the band played another 13 hits (14, if "Smart Patrol" and "Mr. DNA" are supposed to be separate songs). Mark Mothersbaugh's voice showed zero stress, although a few times he stretched a word into a slight roar, as if to assure us there was no lip-synching. During the encore of "Beautiful World", he reemerged as Booji Boy, leading the crowd with an upbeat falsetto. Behind the band, footage of the endless rusty mushroom cloud of the BP oil spill played on and on. Then the show was over, the throng milled back towards the racetrack, and somewhere an announcer urged us all to make it out for Fishbone next week.