Monkey men all in business suits: In 1996, Devo played a Sundance Film Festival corporate gig

By on April 25, 2018

On Friday, January 26, 1996, Devo, always one of Night Flight’s favorites, reformed to play one of the last live music events of that year’s Sundance Film Festival, which was later included as a bonus disc accompanying their The Men Who Make The Music DVD, cleverly-titled as Butch Devo & the Sundance Gig.

Watch the full hour-long concert tonight on Night Flight Plus!

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“In January of ’96, we closed Sundance Film Festival,” Devo bassist Jerry Casale told Rolling Stone magazine in 2014. “We wore Twenties-style prison suits and dished out classic Devo songs to an unsuspecting audience of Hollywood elite.”

We have to pause here to point out, all these years after Devo warned us about the evils of big corporations, how funny or possibly ironic that Devo — wearing black & white-striped prisoner uniforms — would be playing what was basically a corporate gig, a private show for Apple employees at the Arena in Park City, Utah.

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This the band, after all, whose second album, Duty Now for the Future, even featured front cover artwork that displayed bar codes, emphasizing their over-identification with corporate culture.

The album’s first track was their “Devo Corporate Anthem,” the video for which featured them all wearing jet-black “game show host” hair, and they don these same hairpieces at one point during their Sundance gig too, as well as their red plastic “flowerpot hats,” which, it turns out, are actually “energy domes” inspired by Mayan and Aztec pyramids.

Certainly no one is calling Devo sell-outs or corporate slaves, though: if there was ever a band who mocked other musical acts for selling themselves out to corporate banality and conformity (while doing it from the inside, acting like sell-outs when they really weren’t), it was our beloved Devo.

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A year before this 1996 concert, Devo had re-recorded one of their hits, 1980’s “Girl U Want,” for the soundtrack to a new movie, 1995’s Tank Girl.

That new version of an old song is actually what led to their reuniting to play the 1996 Sundance Film Festival, as well as making an appearance at that year’s Lollapalooza as one of the bands rotating into the music festival’s “Mystery Spot.”

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For both concerts, and on their subsequent tours over the years since 1996, Devo’s setlist consisted mostly of songs from their earliest recordings for Warner Bros. Records, recorded between 1978 and 1982, eschewing their Enigma Records-era catalog entirely.

Devo’s Sundance concert — their first gig in five years, beginning with a great film clip featuring General Boy — also features a crazy introduction by “master of ceremonies” Cheech Marin, of Cheech & Chong fame.

Read more about Butch Devo & the Sundance Gig. below.

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The setlist for their Sundance gig — the title of the DVD bonus disc is obviously a parody of the 1969 movie title Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, but that’s about it as far as comparisons go — included some of their best-loved songs, including “Too Much Paranoias,” “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” and “Uncontrollable Urge.”

They also played one of Night Flight’s personal favorites, a surprising mostly-“unplugged” version of “Jocko Homo” — with a intentionally-awful faux-reggae bridge section — while sitting on tall stools, strumming their acoustic guitars while singing out the lyrics to what is essentially their mission statement or manifesto.

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We’ve always loved the song’s lyrics and Devo’s theory about “de-evolution,” which presents the concept that humans are descended from brain-eating cannibal apes, and that our future as a species sees humans regressing back to a simian state.

The song’s references to modern humans as “monkey men all in business suits” is particularly funny here because the band, tapped to play a corporate gig, are dressed like Depression-era inmates.

These are clearly not “business suits,” so we have to ask: isn’t wearing prison stripes somewhat akin to wearing a corporate-friendly “business suit”? Night Flight thinks so!

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The song had originally appeared on the B-side to the first single of theirs we owned, 1977’s “Mongoloid” (another of the tracks they’d perform at Sundance).

The “Mongoloid”/”Jocko Homo” single — Devo’s first 45 release — had come out on their own Booji Boy Records imprint.

The infantile robot Booji was the group’s corporate mascot, and was often featured in videos and during their concerts.

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For the Sundance gig, Josh Freese — who has said that he learned to play drums thanks to Devo’s 1980 album, Freedom of Choice — joined Devo to become their primary drummer in concert and in the studio thereafter.

Freese replaced their previous drummer, David “DeKay” Kendrick (ex-Sparks drummer too), who had stopped playing with Devo five years earlier, in 1991.

DeKay had, in turn, replaced the band’s original drummer, Alan Myers, when Devo — after a long hiatus, had reformed for their 1988 album Total Devo, which barely charted.

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The band would disappear again, after a short tour of small halls and large clubs, their performances captured on a live album Now It Can Be Told.

Devo had recorded one more studio album, Smooth Noodle Maps, and after it too failed to chart, Devo took another long break.

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When Devo accepted the invite to play for Apple employees at the Sundance gig, Mark Mothersbaugh wanted it to be their last concert performance ever.

Of course, that’s not how it worked out for Devo, the band who refused to sell out to corporate interests and/or disappear forever.

Devo have reformed many times over the years, performing sporadically from 1997 onwards.

Watch Butch Devo & the Sundance Gig and other Devo-related titles — over on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • http://uglyradio.wordpress.com/ Richard Vachel Lindsay

    Devo also played more than one show for Nike people up here in Portland OR, reifying an old quote by Casale “It’s ironic, but we’re fed by the things we hate…”