True originals

The return of Devo in disguise and Pere Ubu
By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  November 7, 2006

INCORRECT: For the Evildoers, “Jihad Jerry” Casale reconvened his old band, Devo.

David Thomas is a 300-pound acrobat tiptoeing along a high wire stretched over chaos and control. He pitches wildly between both yet always maintains an arch poise as graceful as that of the hippo ballerinas in Fantasia. I’m not sure Thomas would appreciate the comparison, but that unlikely sense of balance is a requirement of his job leading the classic art punk band Pere Ubu, who first smacked surrealism and rock spunk together in Cleveland in the mid ’70s to create a “bang” that hasn’t yet faded. Even when he’s crooning “My eyes are growing tentacles for to grab you” on Pere Ubu’s new Why I Hate Women (Smog Veil), an old-fashioned analog synthesizer whines likes a distressed air-raid siren and chitters like a sack of chipmunks. It’s Thomas’s way of keeping the dream of punk’s founding fathers — that rock need never be normal — alive.

Jihad Jerry Casale also has love on his mind. And politics, too, as his new band’s name, Jihad Jerry & the Evildoers, and the title of their debut, Mine Is Not a Holy War (Cordless), so subtly confess. In “I Need a Chick” he sings, without a hint of embarrassment, “I need a chick/Suckin’ my dick . . . I need a dog/To licka my hog.” Of course, a man who used to appear on stage in a flower-pot hat with his original band, Devo, nearly 30 years ago probably put his inhibitions aside about, well, 30 years ago. Or roughly the same time Thomas lost his sensitivity regarding his weight and began billing himself as Krokus Behemoth.

All of which is a way to explain that two veteran artists from the original punk era have new albums. You might counter that Jihad Jerry’s disc is not a Devo CD, but a quick reading of the credits reveals that Casale is joined by his three fellow founding Dev-iants, brother Bob Casale and brothers Bob and Mark Mothersbaugh. And fans know that the sleazy, campy “I Need a Chick” is an old unreleased demo from the band’s 1978-’84 Warner Bros. salad days.

Fans also know they can blame Mothersbaugh and his mountain of soundtrack work for the band’s inability to regroup and tour and the consequent deployment by the Disney corporation of a band of Epcot-bred demon midgets billed as Devo 2.0. But that’s another story. This missive is intended to inform you that Devo are back, and though their music may be a bit less jittery and angular — hell, the lustful “Beehive” is even a slide-guitar boogie — it is every bit as energetically obsessive/compulsive and purposefully loopy as ever. And Casale does not scrimp on the rocking or the satirical outrage. “Do you think it’s all okay/To trick a starving whore with a hole in her heart/Into giving it up and refusing to pay?” he asks as guitars clatter and wah-wah in “The Owl,” a sort of skewed Aesop’s fable for adults. The correct answer, of course, is no, but as the cover shot of Jihad Jerry in a turban with a pair of miniature brown-skinned hoochie girls perched on his shoulders reminds, Casale has never been concerned with what’s correct, politically or otherwise.

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