Thursday, October 6, 2011

Devo and progressive rock

I suspect that every new wave band, with the possible exception of Huey Lewis and the News, does not want to be associated with the term "new wave."

At the same time, there are a lot of so-called punk bands that probably don't want to be associated with punk.

Take Devo, for instance. They were probably an art project before they became a band, and my favorite Devo album happens to be their dance album. But at times, they exhibit the qualities of a '60s band.

Take the song "Gut Feeling," from their first full-length album. When you listen to the studio version, initially you think that you're on the campus of Kent State before any shots were fired. As the album version progresses, things start to fall apart and get faster and faster until you get to "Slap Your Mammy," which would give any punk band a run for their money.

But "Gut Feeling"/"Slap Your Mammy" wasn't created in the studio. The live version has a different take. This July 1977 performance is reputed to be the first live performance of the medley.

Now there's always a difficulty in reproducing Devo-like music live, which is why in later years they didn't. (I remember attending a Devo concert in Portland circa 1981 in which one of the guitar strings broke, resulting in no difference whatsoever in the overall sound.) And this live performance took place in a club environment. So it was obviously more difficult to emphasize the soft, "Dove the band of love" beginning of the song.

But the most notable thing about this version is the long introduction. The very long introduction. A three-plus minute introduction that is much longer than most entire punk songs of the time. An introduction that is as long as - are you sitting down? - the introduction to a progressive song. I'll grant that Rick Wakeman probably wouldn't have come up with this particular introduction, but it's almost a parody of punk - taking the same repetitive riff and playing it over and over and over. (Again,, progression in the studio version of the introduction is entirely lost in the club version.)

One thing is common to both the studio and live versions - the wild guitar solo at the end of "Gut Feeling," followed by Mark's high-pitched screams. This, of course, is the antithesis of the '60s feel in the beginning of the song. Even in their wildest, drug-induced moments, Pete Townshend or Jimi Hendrix would never have played a guitar solo like this.

P.S. Here's how I described the song back in 2005:

It starts off underneath a tree on the Kent State campus, on a nice peaceful afternoon (with no National Guardsmen present yet) with a hippie plucking the strings on his guitar, playing some mellow stuff. Then the bass player joins, sounding not at all hippie-dippie, but good nonetheless. Then you get your drummer (remember real drums?) joining in, and the mood gets a little repetitive and you realize you're NOT at Woodstock. Then your keyboards enter the picture, and the keyboardist's fingers keep on creeping farther to the right on the keys, finally slamming some chords to close out the instrumental portion of the song as the drumgs and bass and guitar get more frantic. A guitar chord slams in there, and Mark starts singing the most hateful and spiteful lyrics possible, as the song gets faster. And wait, the guitar is chugging along now, and things are getting faster and faster, and the drums are beating, and Mark is shrieking the second verse. Then he gets to the chorus, and what's the guitar doing here? Now we're in the noise realm, and things are clunky and junky and the hippies are slam dancing and I don't think the people at the coffee jazz club are going like this and now Mark's SCREAMING and they're starting a new song that's even faster and now Mark is just slapping mammies!
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