Review Summary: IS HE NOT A MAN?!?
Although Devo was at the height of their career in the early 1980s, their best material can be found before they even signed onto a record label. This includes The 'Hardcore' compilations, some of 'Pioneers Who Got Scalped', some of 'Recombo DNA', and 'Devo Live: The Mongoloid Years', the latter of which is our primary focus.
'Live: The Mongoloid Years' is a live album of three shows, each from an earlier date than the last. As you continue through the album, you go from the more rounded spuds who we're familiar with to a loose, ragtag group of four guys intentionally pissing off the audience and blasting them with sonic synthesizer explosions that will make people who know Devo as "the guys who did 'Whip It'" shake in their boots. In my last review, I described the album in great detail. It was a little EP, so I had room to wiggle. But this is a big record compared to the other one, so I'll skim over the shows (except the 1975 one, that I'm going deep into).
MAX'S KANSAS CITY, NEW YORK CITY, NY: OCTOBER 1977
This show takes up most of the album, covering nine tracks. In my opinion, this was one of the best shows Devo did--I wish I'd been around to see it! Several of the songs on here are better than the studio versions, including "Too Much Paranoias", "Mongoloid", and the best version of "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA" I've ever heard. The band played a two-part set at this show--This is the early set. Hopefully they'll release the later set someday, but for now, this works great.
THE CRYPT, AKRON, OH: DECEMBER 1976
Four tracks of a show where Devo opened for The Dead Boys. Its somewhat surprising to hear 'Duty Now for the Future' material played three years before it saw the light of day. Once again, the live songs are infinitely better than their studio counterparts. "Soo Bawls", "Blockhead", "Space Junk", "Clockout"... all of them rock! By this point, Alan Myers was in the band, and this was one of his first shows with the Spuds.
WHK AUDITORIUM, CLEVELAND, OH: HALLOWEEN 1975
Imagine if you will, sitting in your comfortable suburban home with a soda, when suddenly a giant spaceship lands in your front room and four men wearing panty hose over their heads jump out and commence to beat the sh** out of you with rusty synthesizers and lobotomized guitars. They then proceed to take turns getting it on with your girlfriend and raiding your fridge. Now imagine the musical equivalent of this scene and you will have the last twenty five minutes of 'The Mongoloid Years'. This is one of the very few recordings of the Quartet Devo, where Bob2 hadn't joined yet and Mark's brother, James "Jungle Jim" Mothersbaugh, was drummer. They were hired as a joke to open for Sun Ra, billed as a Bad Company cover band, and played in front of a pretty large crowd of hippies getting high on some sort of gas. The four proceeded to attack them with intentionally off-key vocals (It's hard to tell who's singing, probably Jerry), sonic noise blasts from a Minimoog and a Clavinet, the bass guitar thundering at full volume over the mix, and Bob1 retaliating from below with sonic mutations, all behind the guises of Jungle Jim (Jim Mothersbaugh), Clown (Bob1), ChinaMan (Jerry), and Booji Boy (Mark). They open with "Subhuman Woman", which, despite being one of their best songs, never saw the light of day. Then there's an off-beat, off-key version of "Bamboo Bimbo", followed by a relatively dumb song, "Beulah". After that, one of the DEVOs says, "alright, here's a man song, no booji boys!", and the four break out into the very first performance of the infamous "Jocko Homo". It's said that they played the song for THIRTY MINUTES STRAIGHT, going "Are we not men?" to the audience for most of that time (on the record, it's been cut down to about five). Needless to say, a lot of the room cleared out, and those who remained tried to kick the Spuds off the stage, but they persisted, pointing at audience members, going, "IS HE NOT A MAN?!?" After half an hour of call-and-response hilarity, another sonic noise blast from the Clavinet leads them into "I Need A Chick". This one is where Mark gets kinky with the Moog, and winds up getting the band unplugged and into a fight with the promoter. Sun Ra, it is said, was never able to play, as the only people left were Devo and six friends from Akron. Two songs, "Chango" and "Baby Talkin' Bitches", were cut out, and I think they would have gone into "I Been Refused" had they not been unplugged.
In other words, it was f**king awesome.
To conclude: BUY THIS CD. You will not find a finer collection of live Devo anywhere, and you won't find "Subhuman Woman" anywhere else either. I hope that Devo will release a 'Live: The Mongoloid Years Part 2', with:
the second half of Max's 1977,
the rest of The Crypt 1976,
The UNCUT 1975 show, and
The entirety of the Kent State University performance of 1973, their first show ever.
Whether you've been a die-hard Spud since the 1970s, or if you've just found Devo, this album is a must-have.