Devo churned out eight albums over the course of twelve years, the type of career that's tough to condense into a 50 minute set. That's why I really wish Butch Devo... had been included as part of this DVD. Despite being shot earlier that same year, it was apparently a vastly different performance, including "Too Much Paranoias", "Praying Hands", a slower, more acoustic take on "Jocko Homo", "Going Under", "That's Good", and "Jerkin' Back and Forth". In the set closer, "Beautiful World", Booji Boy strolls out clad in a diaper, hurling faux-excrement at the audience. Although Devo may be saving this show for a future release and apparently hardly any concerts were taped throughout the '70s and '80s, it still would've been appreciated if something else had been piled on. Television appearances, one-offs, more recent shows like their Tony Hawk stint...just something a little extra to fill out the DVD.
I've never had the chance to see Devo on-stage, and I haven't seen or heard an overwhelming amount of live material. Footage from the The Complete Truth About De-Evolution, an appearance on PBS' In Concert series, and the "Now It Can Be Told" album are about it. Devo Live leaves me hoping that more is on the way. Even though the DVD isn't as lengthy as I would've preferred, it does capture a good set, and the low price and high audio quality should make this an essential purchase for fans of the band.
Video: Devo Live was shot on video and is presented full-frame. The overall quality is decent enough, comparable to what I'd expect from an appearance on cable, though the visuals vary wildly depending on the camera being used at any particular time. The Irvine Meadows show was shot with a total of ten cameras, several of which have very distinct looks to them. Most noticeably among 'em are consumer-grade camcorders in the audience and a washed-out, heavily-aliased camera with a low-end digital look to it. The editing style definitely graduated from the MTV school of thinking, with each shot averaging roughly a quarter-blink. It seemed really jarring and scattershot at first, particularly during set opener "Whip It", but I grew a little more used to it as the concert went on. With many different cameras and many different cuts, it's not unusual to see five different shades of yellow in the band's jumpsuits in the space of 30 seconds. There were no obvious compression or authoring concerns, but with as quick as many of the cuts are, it's kind of hard to get a bearing on that sort of thing.
Audio: When I learned that Devo Live had Dolby Digital 5.1 audio, I groaned. I've been disappointed with the 5.1 DVD mixes from Rhino that I've heard, which essentially duplicated the same audio across five speakers. Devo Live does a much better job, not surprising since it was Bob 2 helming the controls. A capable center speaker may be required to get the most out of the disc as that's where a lot of the action is anchored. Guitars and backup vox are typically spread across the two front mains, with bass, keyboards, vocals, and drums roaring from the center. The surrounds reinforce the action up front, offering echoed vocals, reverb, and crowd noise. The low-end is appropriately tight and punchy, in keeping with the art-punk sound of the early-era Devo material represented on this DVD. Stereo separation is also apparent with the guitars across the main speakers. Each guitarist generally receives a channel largely to himself, with the interplay between the distorted rhythm guitar and the cleaner, ringing lead in "Come Back, Jonee" as one example that stands out in my mind. The placement does vary, such as the lead guitar moving to the center near the end of "Smart Patrol". Really nicely done, and it's great to see that a member of the band participated directly in the mix.
The 5.1 track was encoded at a bitrate of 448Kbps, and a stereo track (192Kbps) has also been provided. There are no subtitles or closed captions.
Supplements: The only extra is an alternate angle feature, always welcome on concert DVDs even though the photography already covers almost every conceivably angle. When the option is enabled in the "Extra Features" menu, a Power Dome icon appears on-screen during "Whip It", "Satisfaction", "Mongoloid", "Smart Patrol / Mr. DNA", and "Gates of Steel", and selecting the Dome shifts perspective.
The DVD comes packaged in a keepcase, and at least with the review copy I received, no insert was provided. Although I generally couldn't care less about inserts, I would've liked to see some live photos of the band included. The cover art has an unfortunate low-rent, budget-label look to it, and Club Devo has a write-up about its progression since the project first got underway in 2002. The disc also includes a set of 4x3 animated menus.
Conclusion: Although I could've easily gone for another hour of material, Devo Live has some excellent performances and an appealingly low list price. It actually costs less to pick up this DVD than "Now It Can Be Told", and that CD obviously doesn't benefit from visual accompaniment or six-channel sound. Devo Live should help fill the void in spuds anxiously awaiting another spin in the studio or another tour from a greatly underappreciated band. Recommended.