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Devo – Miracle Witness Hour

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Devo – Miracle Witness HourWhen I heard that I was to review this album, I had to re-visit some of my old Devo records, blow the dust off and give them a new, fresh listen. Some call them punks, post-punks, new wave or even artrock, but they certainly have their own signature no matter what. The recordings from the late ’70s especially have some of the same quirkiness and dark moods of The Stranglers, although Devo in their early years seemed to be a more avant-pop band in the same fresh breath as Pere Ubu. For my own part, I prefer the second album, Duty Now for the Future, being the more rough and more guitar-dominant side of Devo over the début album Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! with its more slick, polished up production by Brian Eno.

So this live document from the days before the début comes as a big piece of fresh air, being a Miracle Witness Hour in many senses. I am intrigued by the fact that the band could give such a good overall performance when, as is obvious from the sound of the applause, only a handful of people were present. But then again, it is by this fact understandable that they managed to get the deal they did only months later.

This 1977 concert took place at The Eagle Street Saloon, a biker bar in Cleveland, Ohio. According to the liner notes by Devo founding member Gerald Casale, the bar wanted to book local punk acts to attract a new crowd in order to sell more drinks. Absurdity was the name of the game for Devo at that time, so nothing could stop them from entering with their yellow plastic suits into the dank, dingy, mouldy and sad bar, with a matching odour of the crowd. A few fans and friends of the band stayed as the regulars went to find better business in the next bar, ensuring the mood was high spirited all through the set; and the band delivered the goods.

The tracks are quite a mix of varied songs. The experimental sides of Devo are well apparent, even though they are outside the studio format, which goes to show their abilities as songwriters. Fave tracks as “Jock Homo” or “Mongoloid” are present, although I personally like the strange “Polivinyl Chloride” or the rock’n’roll in “Huboon Stomp”. Throughout the show they serve all kinds of twists and quirky riffs, or machine-rhythmic like tracks like “Praying Hands”, inspired by krautrock, it might seem. The finale, an 8:33 version of “Smart Patrol/Mr DNA” serves as a perfect ending to a great gig, having all kinds of ingredients, of strange sounds, surreal sci-fi lyrics, blues guitar riffs and that stomping beat, all turning into a noisy, distorted rock’n’roll track.

-Ronny Wærnes-

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