OAKLAND — Director and counterculture legend John Waters introduced Devo by telling the crowd, “They were before new wave, ahead of industrial, before the word ‘alternative’ was coined. This band was no media invention, it was a grassroots movement that everybody here has embraced. David Bowie loved them. Iggy loves them. I love them!”
If anything, Waters undersold the headliner at Burger Records’ annual Boogaloo concert at Mosswood Park.
Despite it being Devo’s first show in four years (according to Waters, who’s never lied to me before, that I know of), and despite Portlandia star and former Saturday Night Live regular Fred Armisen sitting in on drums for Josh Freese, Devo put on a show as energetic and surreal as one would hope and expect. The only change was in jumpsuit color; apparently orange is the new yellow.
Co-founder and vocalist Mark Mothersbaugh, taking a break from scoring movies and TV shows like Thor: Ragnarok and Last Man On Earth, sounded like he was still in 1981 on “Whip It” (which he described as “a song we’ve been working on”), slashed the 20-foot-high backdrop shaped like their trademark Energy Dome with a sword during “Uncontrollable Urge,” and performed “Beautiful World” in falsetto while dressed in a creepy mask and penguin costume, interrupting the song for several minutes to tell a story about his run-in with the late Divine. It was brilliant.
He was joined by Armisen, original members Gerald Casale and Bob Mothersbaugh, and fairly recent addition Josh Hager, all of whom were stellar. Armisen, despite hiding in the back corner while Casale and the Mothersbaugh brothers handled the banter, did a fantastic job on the drums.
But while Devo brought the house down to end the day, they were only the headliner of a whole day of punk rock.
The Mummies, garage punk pioneers from San Bruno, were a close second to Devo in showmanship. Forced onto the stage by people in Planet of the Apes costumes—singer and organist Trent Ruane was carried in a burlap sack—and in their trademark mummy costumes, they were as much spectacle as music. That is a compliment; the music was great.
They also won the day in stage banter:
“We don’t often play for thousands of people so I just have something to say: Death to America,” one mummy said between songs.
“Death to America?” incredulously replied another.
“Yeah,” replied the first mummy. “The band.”
Surf punk band Traditional Fools’ sound was something like if Dick Dale got angry and changed genres, or if a Frankie and Annette beach party fell in with a bad crowd. The fast-paced, thrash-inspired songs kept a distinct surf rock undertone that set them apart from just being another punk band.
They also had the most honest response after John Waters’ fawning introduction: “Well, that was cool.”
Mudhoney arguably formed the Seattle sound in the late ‘80s. While Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden get most of the fame, their first single, “Touch Me I’m Sick,” solidified the hallmarks of what would become grunge. And after 30 years they still sound great, with their biggest hit “Suck You Dry” fitting right in with the festival’s younger acts.
(I regret to inform fellow children of the ‘90s that, since Mudhoney formed 30 years ago in 1988, they are technically classic rock. If you listened to songs from the ‘60s on KFRC in the ‘90s, that’s like listening to Mudhoney now. I’m very sorry.)
The Spits were among the most hardcore of the bands on the first day, inspiring a vicious mosh pit. Shirtless and wearing trench coats, surrounded by people throwing firecrackers onto the stage and firing bottle rockets into the air, their set was pure punk chaos. One sure sign of a good show at a festival is when you see artists from other bands performing on the same day in the crowd. Not only was Kristin of The Flytraps in attendance, she was crowd surfing.
Hunx & his Punx is, as you might expect from the rest of the festival lineup, a punk band. What you might not expect is that the sound seems inspired by the bubblegum pop girl groups of the early ‘60s. It’s not a common source of inspiration but, based on their set, one that should probably be explored now.
Of course the person singing girl group-style swooning odes to boys is Hunx, Seth Bogart, who performed in a shirt that said “100% FRUIT” and leggings he frequently pulled down to show off his codpiece. It may be inspired by the early ‘60s but it wouldn’t be punk if it wouldn’t horrify fans of its source material.
The Flytraps were introduced as an all-girl group, though singer and bassist Kristin Cooper clarified as soon as she took the stage that at the moment one of the girls has a penis.
Genders aside, their hardcore, screaming surf punk drew people in from other parts of the Mosswood Park. When the crowd nearly doubles over the course of a half-hour set, the band is definitely doing something right. And half the band’s decision to wear leather pants on a very sunny, very hot day shows a level of commitment I would not possess.
The Okmoniks were one of two bands featuring an organist lead singer; along with the Mummies. That’s where the similarities stop. The Okmoniks have a more surf-inspired sound, and singer-organist Helene 33 has a voice occasionally reminiscent of a bubblegum pop singer.
The glasses they handed out to the crowd before the show to make them look kaleidoscopic and sparkly definitely improved the experience, though, even if mine were stolen clean off my head.
Pookie and the Poodlez won the award for the most local band at the festival: Pookie Straub lives right up the street from Mosswood Park. And the connection definitely showed in the love from the crowd.
The music itself was short, poppy songs, reminiscent of The Ramones or fellow act Hunx & his Punx. And the voice distortion on the vocals worked far, far better than it had any right to.
Judging solely by the number people wearing their merch Nots should have performed later in the day and on the big stage; their T-shirts were second in number only to Devo’s Energy Domes. But even if nobody had heard of them, the Memphis band’s music should have given them a better spot as well. Of all the acts of the day, Nots sounded the most old-school. Their hard-driving punk rock, reminiscent of the British bands of the ‘70s, did make for a great appetizer, even if they deserved more exposure.
Twelve-year-old Francis Lau, who caught the attention of Pee Wee Herman with his cover of Devo’s “Time Out For Fun,” opened the show. That led to a meteoric rise from Oakland’s Three O’Clock Rock program to kicking off Burger Boogaloo. And really, what could be more punk than kicking off your festival with a 12-year-old?
Burger Boogaloo continues today at Mosswood Park.