Devolution of Clifton Park: Devo at Northern Lights.
Lights, July 31
Prior to the Devo show at North ern Lights on Saturday night,
scanning the crowd for “Devotees” of the band was an entertainment
unto itself. Fans in Devo radiation jumpsuits or with Devo
tattoos wandered about, as did a cute-as-all-get-out father-and-son
pair in identical Devo uniforms of black T-shirts and shorts,
red knee pads and pyramid-shaped energy hats. It was like
Halloween without all the bad bloody-zombie and slutty-devil-lady
Devo are clearly a band who inspire a level of devotion among
fans, thanks to their compelling blend of futuristic kitsch,
subversive humor and twitchy new wave that never seems to
go out of style. Anticipation for the band’s arrival onstage
ran high as the number of concertgoers wearing plastic Devo
energy hats multiplied (they were on sale at the merch table
And Devo didn’t disappoint. In front of a flashing red strobe
and a grainy computerized video backdrop, the five members
of Devo—brothers Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, brothers Jerry
and Bob Casale, and new drummer Jeff Friedl—came onstage to
cheers. Despite their stated belief in “de-evolution,” or
the regression of humankind, Devo’s sound and look has actually
evolved over time (or perhaps devolved). The band’s new uniforms
are gray with matching masks, their traditional red energy
hats have been updated to “focus-group tested” electric blue,
and their new album, Something for Everybody, has a
contemporary electropop sound.
The band hit the most synth-heavy songs in their repertoire
early on, including three from Everybody, their first
album since 1990. New song “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)” name-checked
both hybrid cars and the au courant catchphrase, “Don’t tase
me, bro,” while “What We Do” had a postmodern industrial dance
Despite the up-to-date references, the band—going on 37 years
now since forming in Akron, Ohio, in 1973—looked their age
in certain ways: Mark Mothersbaugh’s gray hair and brainy
spectacles made him look like the mad, aging genius that he
is. But as band members ran vigorously in place onstage, or
broke out synchronized karate chops for “Peek-A-Boo!,” their
perpetual willingness to entertain by being ridiculous—no
matter how old they are—seemed all the more charming.
A costume change into blue hats and black Devo shirts brought
about the awesome one-two pairing of “Girl U Want” and “Whip
It,” which could have set up an anticlimactic second half
of the show since both hits are likely encores. The show only
got better from there, though.
With an image of Planet Earth on the video backdrop and a
disembodied voice welcoming “your fellow travelers in space
and time, Devo” back onstage, the band returned from a momentary
break wearing yellow plastic jumpsuits and strapped with guitars.
The guitar-heavy lineup gave the second half of the show a
more punk-rock sound, and the song selection until the end
was pretty amazing: “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Secret Agent Man,”
“Jocko Homo,” “Gates of Steel,” and their jittery rendition
of the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” one of the
greatest covers ever.
The encore included “Freedom of Choice” and “Beautiful World,”
performed by Booji Boy, a weird falsetto-singing manchild
creation whose significance is probably only fully understood
by true De-volutionaries.
Egg, Aug. 1
Doc Watson, the seven-time Grammy winning traditional country
musician from North Carolina, is among America’s most influential
guitarists. Discovered playing a Les Paul in 1960 by folklorist
Ralph Rinzler, Doc (Arthel, his given name, was considered
too weird for the stage, so “Doc,” a reference to Sherlock
Holmes’ physician sidekick, was suggested) was persuaded by
Rinzler to shed his electric ax for an acoustic so his music
could appeal to the burgeoning folk revival. Watson’s scintillating
flatpicking style, which encompassed note-for-note versions
of fiddle tunes and flashy instrumental song breaks derived
from western swing, soon led to the emergence of the guitar
as a bluegrass lead instrument after Clarence White learned
it and featured it in the Kentucky Colonels. Watson’s talents
didn’t end with flatpicking, either—he was also an accomplished
fingerpicker, banjoist, and harmonica player with a rich baritone
Now 87, he came to the Egg Sunday night with his longtime
electric bassist T. Michael Coleman, grandson Richard Watson
on guitar, and ace banjo picker and guitarist David Holt,
to perform his signature tunes. You can’t expect any octogenarian
to play as he did in his prime, but by and large, Watson still
packed lightning in his fingers.
With Holt and Coleman in tow, Watson, wearing gray slacks
and a brown-and-gray- patterned shirt, opened with Uncle Dave
Macon’s “Way Downtown.” Holt’s clawhammer banjo work was fluid
and flawless, and Doc held his own on flatpicked guitar. Next
he played “Shady Grove” a song with which he used to woo his
future bride, Rosalee Carlton. Holt was even better here,
climbing the neck for some deft drop-thumb runs.
Watson learned hoedown tunes after he joined a string band
that lacked a fiddler and he had to carry the lead on guitar.
The trio breezed through one such breakdown, “Whiskey Before
Breakfast.” Another highlight was “Deep River Blues,” which
Watson took from a 1930s Delmore Brothers song and arranged
in Merle Travis’ fingerpicking style.
For the second set, Watson began playing fingerstyle on Elizabeth
Cotton’s “Freight Train.” In a painful moment, his picking
collapsed during the next tune, Kris Kristofferson’s “For
the Good Times,” but he rallied with Merle Travis’ “I Am a
Pilgrim.” Rejoined by Coleman and now grandson Richard, a
garage-band-level guitarist who played up-the-neck blues riffs
better suited to classic rock than the genre at hand, Doc
yodeled with panache on Jimmie Rodgers’ version of the old
blues number “Frankie and Johnny.” With Holt back onstage,
they finished with a swaggering rendition of John Hurt’s “Got
the Blues, Can’t Be Satisfied.”
Watson and company offered no encore, but legends of his stature
don’t need to.
Horse Music Hall, Northampton, Mass., July 30
It’s the test of any musician to replicate the effect of a
successful recording live onstage, but lo-fi artists have
it especially tough, given that so much of their style and
identity is tied to the sound of haphazard home-recording
technology. Such is the case with tUnE-yArDs, the feral bedroom-pop
project of Merril Garbus, which exploded out of obscurity
last year on the merits of Bird-Brains, a self- produced
blend of glitchy beats, fuzzy ukulele, found sounds, and Garbus’
powerful vocal work. Beyond excellent songcraft, the record
was endearing in part because of the transparency of its construction.
At times, you hear Garbus click on her loop pedal, fidget
with a microphone, or adjust a level on her gear. But it wasn’t
the cuteness of imprecision that she was after. Instead, the
effect was raw and uninhibited, like a child banging on pots
and pans because that’s all that was lying around.
Wide-eyed and face-painted, Garbus, a Smith alumnus who hatched
tUnE-yArDs at a coffee-shop open mic in Northampton, Mass.,
quickly proved that her music is built for performance, and
watching her build it was one of the show’s great treats.
With help from Nate Brenner on bass, Garbus layered each track
on a loop console using only a floor tom, snare drum, ukulele
and voice, occasionally incorporating a rim shot or the clink
of drum stick on mic stand. The beats could be primal and
dance-ready, at times evoking M.I.A. with all her dancehall
militancy, at others Micachu, the cheeky, choppy Brit. But,
in spite of her lo-fi origins, there was nothing haphazard
about her command of her gear. Unlike most who produce a ukulele
for the sake of novelty, Garbus played hers with seriousness
and dexterity, but always in service to her deep earthy vocals.
“Hatari,” one of the only songs she played from her debut,
was a prime example. It opened with a register-jumping African
ululation, which Garbus doubled and tripled to spooky choral
effect before pounding out a junkyard groove underneath. The
subsequent breakdown and closing exhortation that “there is
a natural sound that wild things make when they’re bound”
seemed to cut right to the core of her message.
Drawing on fist-pumping reggae tropes of survival, perseverance
and liberation, Garbus seemed to be (perhaps unconsciously)
rejecting the clean, cute, domestic passivity that most female
performers in the indie/art pop world have assumed lately.
It was a tack shared by opener Shira E, whose crowd-participatory
guitar tunes earned her a surprisingly frenzied response from