Autonomous automaton Mark Mothersbaugh
photo: David Atlas

Are We Not Wet?
Aging Ohioans in flowerpots prove they predicted future

Devo, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Stellastarr*
Central Park SummerStage
July 22

Devo could have been just another oldies act: An onstage montage of decades-old cardboard-futurism videos like "Whip It" and "Working in the Coal Mine" initiated an hour-long set of MTV-era anthems performed with graph-paper precision. But their greatest-hits repertoire at Central Park SummerStage on July 22 came off as razor-sharp, nonetheless. The band's satirical synth-pop still surpasses much of the stuff coming out of New Romantic–obsessed Williamsburg, and the band's dystopian vision of a brave new world ruled by violent, devolved simians has an almost unprecedented urgency in this election year. Of course, it also helped that the audience had been pumped by some of the city's hot young guns: The stylish and moody, if derivative, rock of Stellastarr* was a washout due to hammering rains, but the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' palpable punk was as seething and personal as ever. Nor did it hurt that the scene-stealing antics of frontwoman Karen O included slowly stripping her way out of a plastic rain slicker over the course of the set.

YeahyeahyeahyeahyeyeyeyeYEAH! Wearing code-yellow nuke suits to match our threat level, Devo next jerked their way through vaguely discordant classics like "Uncontrollable Urge," "Mongoloid," and "Satisfaction." War may be absurd, but wearing a red plastic flowerpot on your head? Now that's caraaazy! "Howya doin' tonight, spuds? Are you more devolved than four years ago?" asked Mark Mothersbaugh, that most autonomous of automatons. "De-evolution is real. And we're here to prove it!" The band launched into the frenzied call-and-response of "Jocko Homo," and chants of "We are Devo!" reverberated through the masses. An unsettling sense of repetition. "We are Devo!" Of living in the not so distant past. "We are Devo!" Of . . . Must . . . free . . . the . . . Iraqi . . . people . . . from . . . the . . . tyranny . . . of . . . Saddam. Atari laser sounds echoed through Central Park—bombs away! By the time the droopy, infantile Booji Boy twerped out a "Beautiful World" encore, the audience felt similarly fat, sated, vindicated. Our world is a beautiful world. As Devo left the stage, the skies opened up in a torrent as if on command, and a sea of umbrellas dispersed in an orderly fashion. Carla Spartos

Wake Idiot Wake
Scandinavians' one-liners justify their obsession with past

The Hives, Sahara Hotnights, The Reigning Sound
Irving Plaza
July 21

We regret to inform you that garage rock is dead. The funeral was held July 21 at Irving Plaza; few friends and family members attended, though the spectacle attracted many young, fashionably dressed mourners. To start the proceedings, fuzz-happy Nuggets worshippers the Reigning Sound demonstrated what killed the 40-year-old genre: crippling traditionalism and indistinguishable songs. (Singer-guitarist Greg Cartwright: "Are you bored?" Audience: uncomfortable silence.) Sahara Hotnights' bubble-punk Pat Benatar nostalgia, though coolly executed, was just as conservative and monotonous.

Then in came the pallbearers. Wearing their trademark black-and-white suits, bow ties, and loafers, the Hives paraded the corpse around Weekend at Bernie's–style for one last night of fun. Impossibly enthusiastic singer Howlin' Pelle Almqvist led his crew of beefy Swedes through taut, driving tunes that proved why garage had to die. Clapping, high-kicking, climbing the walls, and throwing himself into the crowd while shouting like Iggy channeling Mick, Almqvist made for a consummate rock and roll frontman. Songs like "No Pun Intended" and "Abra Cadaver," from the new Tyrannosaurus Hives album, were held aloft by Vigilante Carlstroem's and Nicholaus Arson's trebly, distorted guitar riffs; drummer Chris Dangerous and bassist Dr. Matt Destruction's chugging low end anchored the killer singles "Walk Idiot Walk" and "Hate to Say I Told You So." Entertaining '60s and '70s throwbacks, yes. But vital, distinctive, thrilling? Not quite.

When the music stopped, though, so did the nostalgia. In his between-song banter, Almqvist focused obsessively on the present, reminding the gathered faithful over and over again how lucky they were to be witnessing the greatest rock group of all time. "This is the part of the show where we can do anything and the audience will follow," he barked, before demanding his rightful share of clapping, screaming, chanting, and record-buying. (Written in big block letters on the side of the plastic merch bags: "BUY IT, IDIOT, BUY IT.") As his comments' comic pomposity increased, and the set grew longer than any two of the Hives' albums put together, the songs began to blend, becoming mildly diverting distractions in an ace stand-up comedy act. Long live garage rock! Amy Phillips

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