Review of Miracle Witness Hour Album by Devo

Long before Devo taught the world how to 'whip it real good' and spawned the niche trend for sporting energy domes - and Mark Mothersbaugh's own line of eyewear - the electro-rock experimentalists were mere tadpoles on the scene, honing their eccentric sound and playing dive bars across the US. Now seventh and latest live album 'Miracle Witness Hour' promises to take fans back in time to those early gigs with an intimate recording from a 1977 performance at the 'biker bar turned total dive': The Eagle Street Saloon in Cleveland, Ohio. This was Jocko Homo and Mongoloid-era Devo; reckless square pegs with a penchant for quirky, avant-garde pop and a short while away from David Bowie's declaration that they were 'the band of the future'.

Devo Miracle Witness Hour Album

A dated recording lends an invitingly DIY aesthetic to the collection of imperfect renditions of the aforementioned classics, plus choice favourites 'Polyvinyl Chloride', 'Be Stiff' and 'Secret Agent Man' stand proudly out of the shadow of the arguably more radio-friendly later hits. The raw and unpolished songs are tinged by the punk and surf rock of proto-Devo, as best appreciated on the beach bar crackerjack 'Praying Hands' and the shouty, frenzied 'Huboon Stomp'. A polite yet sparse smattering of applause marks the end of each song, and illustrates a group doing what they would be defined by: revelling in the periphery, pushing sonic boundaries, and throwing everything at their live shows, unconcerned with chart appeal, crowd sizes or whether they ever attained platinum status.

Some bands release live albums as a half-assed stop-gap with little thought having gone into the execution: not Devo. Released by Futurismo, 'Miracle.' boasts retro artwork and an inner sleeve containing rare images and lino notes from founder Gerard Casale, as well as funky coloured records for the vinyl fans. The collection makes a compelling introduction to the eclectic Devo sound for the uninitiated, as well as being a die-hard spud's tribute to the shape-shifting Ohio foursome who, after 41 years and countless line-up alterations, and amid a climate of chart music riddled with banal synthpop and auto-tuned popstars, is thankfully still flying the flag for wacky tunes and genre-evasion.

Lauren James


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