follow us in feedly
The Band Who Fell to Earth: Early DEVO live at Max’s Kansas City
07.16.2013
02:42 pm

Topics:
Music
Punk

Tags:
DEVO
title


 
An excerpt from Kevin C. Smith’s new book, Recombo DNA: The Story Of Devo, Or How the 60s Became the 80s.

While CBGB was ground zero for what had become known as punk, Devo would play the majority of their New York gigs at Max’s Kansas City. Once a favorite spot of Andy Warhol’s and his entourage, it had also served as the epicenter of the glam-rock scene of the early 70s. It was also where David Bowie and Iggy Pop first met. Located off Union Square, two blocks from Warhol’s Factory, it was “the exact place where pop art and pop life came together in New York in the 60s,” as the artist put it. “Teeny boppers and sculptors, rock stars and poets from St Mark’s Place, Hollywood actors checking out what the underground actors were all about, boutique owners and models, modern dancers and go-go dancers—everybody went to Max’s and everything got homogenized there.”

Pere Ubu had played at Max’s at least a year earlier, and were in fact the only non-New Yorkers among the eight bands to feature on the compilation album Max’s Kansas City 1976 (reissued in 1978 as Max’s Kansas City—New York New Wave). Devo made their debut at the venue immediately after their second CBGB show on May 25 1977. Having worn their yellow HAZMAT suits at CBGB, at Max’s they unveiled some new finds: high-waisted, billowy, knee-length Gurkha shorts (as worn by the Nepalese military units from which they took their name) and white suspenders. These baggy, pleated shorts were entirely out of step with prevailing trends of the 70s but predated the look of the 80s.

Devo would return to Max’s for more shows during the summer, fall, and winter of 1977, one of which was attended by an aspiring music journalist, Byron Coley, who would later travel with the band on their first major-label tour just over a year later and write about the experience for New York Rocker. They had an intriguing way with introductions. “I personally fell in love with Devo during the summer of ’77 at Max’s Kansas City,” Coley later wrote. “What made the show so special for me was the moment when Bob Mothersbaugh got so carried away with his solo on ‘Smart Patrol’ that he jabbed his guitar into my ear and actually drew blood. Ya hear that, babies? Blood! You think I’d spill the very essence of life over some band I hadn’t taken a mighty big hankering to? Damn straight I wouldn’t. When he jabbed the same guitar into my pal Strato’s eye (blackening it for a long two weeks), I knew this was indeed the band for me. Their swell costumes and even sweller songs had me in their sway. Call me a fool, I call it rock’n’roll.”

Each of the band’s forays to New York drew bigger crowds than the last, and their reputation increased correspondingly. The main booker at Max’s, Peter Crowley, would later describe the band’s performances there as “a giant showcase. They were already becoming famous and all that . . . but they were not identified with Max’s as struggling beginners. They were already kings of the underground. By playing New York, they then got the international reputation.”

For their second appearance at Max’s, Devo shared the bill with the equally misanthropic New York bands The Cramps—featuring transplanted Akron native Lux Interior—and Suicide. The latter group regularly caused genuine riots—including one in Belgium that had to be dispersed with tear gas—with their performances, which featured Martin Rev’s primitive organ and rhythm boxes and Alan Vega’s confrontational stage demeanor. He would routinely taunt pugilistic audience members with a bicycle chain, and sometimes barricade the exits so audiences were forced to stay and listen. Suicide shows would culminate in the ten-minute ‘Frankie Teadrop,’ a harrowing tale of a desperate factory worker’s murder of his wife and six-month-old child. “People would run, screaming,” Television guitarist Richard Lloyd recalled. “The whole crowd at CBGB would go outside . . . it was dreadful. But that’s their charm.”

The band’s formation in 1970 preceded Devo’s by a few years, but the impetus was the same. “The Vietnam War was going nuts with Nixon dropping bombs everywhere,” Vega recalled. “Suicide was very much a reaction to all the shit that was going on around us.” For all the nihilism and cynicism, however, one of the band’s defining works was ‘Dream Baby Dream,’ which Vega described as being “about the need to keep our dreams alive.”

Before the show at Max’s, the legendarily confrontational Vega let down his stage persona long enough to go and introduce himself to Devo in their dressing room. He was shocked at what he found. “I opened their door and they were all doing calisthenics,” he recalled. “When they performed, they were almost like a calisthenic—all in unison with their movements onstage—like a machine. When I looked into their dressing room and saw them doing all their movements I just cracked up.” Nonetheless, Vega got on well with the band, and remembered them signing a record deal shortly after the show. It was not the first time that had happened. “This was test for the band: if the band could play to a Suicide crowd and get over it, then they got signed.”

Although Devo found acceptance within the burgeoning underground rock scene in New York, they realized that their unique worldview could not have been fostered there. In Akron, they had been allowed to develop in isolation, whereas audiences in New York had been able to watch bands like the Ramones and Talking Heads evolve over time. “When Devo finally popped and were able to drive in our Econoline van from Ohio to New York City and play shows, people were disbelieving that it could have even happened,” Mark recalled. “They were like: how did we not know about this? . . . People were mystified. They wanted to know what Akron was.”

Jerry had a similar backhanded compliment for his hometown. “Devo couldn’t have come out of LA or New York. Cleveland and Akron are like the boot camp to the world. If you can survive those places and still be a functioning human being, you can go anywhere. It’s pretty brutal. It was industrial then, and it was very blue-collar, and it was very hostile to creativity. So the bands that had the balls to do something in the face of the rejection and threats really got strong.”

An excerpt from Kevin C. Smith’s new book, Recombo DNA: The Story Of Devo, Or How the 60s Became the 80s.

Hardcore DEVO has just been re-released by Superior Viaduct/Boogie Boy Records.
 

“Mongoloid” and “Gut Feeling” live at Max’s Kansas City in 1977
 

This slow mutant blues take on “Satisfaction” sounds like Captain Beefheart and The Magic Band.
 

“Smart Patrol” and “Mr. DNA” at Max’s, 1977

Posted by Richard Metzger

 

 

comments powered by Disqus