Perhaps diehard Devo fans can untangle their best songs to identify the jerky stabs that Bob Casale (known to fans as Bob2) made with his strings and keyboard pokes, but I rarely saw the point.
Whether it was Bob2, who died Tuesday at age 61, his brother Gerald Casale, Mark Mothersbaugh or his brother Bob Mothersbaugh (Bob1), who made which noise didn't matter within the tight confines of "Gut Feeling," "Uncontrollable Urge," "Gates of Steel," "Penetration in the Centerfold" or the dozens of others. Bob2 was part of the machine, one that sought to erase individualism for the greater good -- and succeeded.
In high school I woke up each morning to the sight of Bob2 and the rest of Devo staring at me through a big poster on my wall, their eyes following me around my bedroom, penetrating with a look of determination that ignored the fact that they were wearing flower pots (OK, "energy domes") on their heads.
Plus, beneath those helmets or behind those masks, who could tell one from the other. And why would you need to? Mark Mothersbaugh wore the glasses and sang most of the songs, sure. The other four guys? Experts at celebrating Devo's taut musical engine by vanishing, eliminating, or poking fun at the rock star posturing that had grown so tiresome in the era of endless guitar solos.
Scouring YouTube to focus on Bob2's work within at the many thrilling Devo moments from the band's 1975-83 prime, though, quickly reveals his obvious importance to the band's sound.
On the early minimalism of "Mongoloid" in the live clip above, that's Bob2 laying out the opening guitar chords. During the first live performance of "Gut Feeling" afterward, Bob2 appears at the left of the screen, driving one of Devo's most groove-oriented songs with relentless energy. While the rest of the band goes nuts, Bob2 stays mostly in the corner.
On the underrated "The Day My Baby Gave Me a Big Surprise," who knows what Bob2 is doing. Dotting out keyboard melodies and standing near the back of the stage, once again ceding attention to brother Gerry and singer Mark. But despite his inclination for standing just outside the frame, Bob2 was an essential key to Devo's sound.
Here, I'm not sure what Bob2 is playing during this version of "Swelling Itching Brain" -- any help would be appreciated -- but, again, that matters less than recognizing he was there within the power of the unit, perfectly comfortable in his role in the drive train.
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