Right as I entered high school in 1976, the music world was being set on its ear. Album Oriented Rock (AOR) had dominated popular music for the first half of the decade. Once considered the music of rebellion however, Rock was becoming very commercialized and was now viewed as
Around 1975, something strange started bubbling to the surface. Popular music was bifurcating into two distinct poles. Two parallel rebellions were underway, against the status quo:
- Disco represented a resurgence of dance music with heavy Latin, Funk, and Afro-cuban influences. It originated in the urban, black, latin, and gay dance clubs of New York City. The Disco scene was opulent and hedonistic.
- Punk stood on the opposite end of the spectrum. It represented a return to Rock's garage roots. Simultaneously emerging from New York City and London, Punk held an anarchistic and nihilistic attitude; it evangelized a strong DIY ethos.
Of course, when this started happening, it was very important to
pick a side.
I felt more kinship with the Punkers.
Unfortunately, broadcast radio was not the best vehicle to listen to or discover new Punk bands. There were other venues, however. One of these was the then, still relatively young TV show, Saturday Night Live (SNL).
SNL had a musical guest every week, emphasized new artists, and had assumed the role of taste maker. Acts like Elvis Costello, and the Talking Heads, received a big boost after appearing on the show.
Most people my age, watched SNL religiously. However, even with all of this new music, nothing prepared me for the show that aired on October 14, 1978. On that night, Devo appeared on national television.
For the first segment of the show, Devo opened with their brilliant cover of Satisfaction. Ironically, the Rolling Stones were the musical guests, the prior week. For the second segment they showed a clip from their video, the Truth about De-evolution, then played Jocko Homo.
Of course, this was an amazing spectacle, clearly there was something subversive going on with this band. The following Monday at school, there were two reactions:
- WTF was that? - held by most of my classmates.
- I think we found our boys - held by me and my friends who were bummed about the Pistols falling apart.
It was only a short time later that all of us had a copy of
Are We Not Men, We Are Devo and were wearing out the vinyl. As luck would have it, a few weeks later, tickets went on sale were for a show in Baltimore. I can honestly say that I will remember that first Devo show, as long as I live.
All in all, I saw the band on every tour, for their next 3 albums:
- 12/29/78 - Painter's Mill Music Fair, Owings Mills, MD - they opened the show with 15 minutes of video, and Bob 1 had his wireless 2x4 guitar. (3 years before MTV!)
- 07/27/80 - Merriweather Post Pavilion, Columbia, MD - an absolutely hilarious show, with Devo Muzak playing over the PA, as we entered the pavilion.
- 10/31/81 - Radio City Music Hall, New York, NY - a truly bizarre show on Halloween in NYC. The perfect counterweight to the Zappa show over at the Palladium, the same night. They wore plastic JFK hairdos, played all synthesizers, and performed most of the show on treadmills. (Ok Go - just a bunch of ripoffs. Devo's choreography was much better in 1981!)
The members of Devo by the way were Art Students who met at Kent State. And yes, they were there during the National Guard Incident. Their intent with Devo was to make video art. It should be no surprise then, that they were perfect for MTV.
They finally have their hit
Whip It, when things start unraveling. Two more albums later, they changed drummers, and eventually broke up. Things stayed stagnant for 25 years. Post-breakup, lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh, had the only success, writing and producing music for TV and movies.
Fast forward to 2009. Rumors of Devo reforming were swirling around, when I discovered that they would be interviewed and perform at SxSW that year. During the interview, I discovered that Austin was swimming with Devo fans, and that there were two tribute bands in town. Attending their show at the Austin Music Hall restoked my interest in all of the Punk bands, that I used to listen to in my past.
I was supposed to have also seen the Spudboys from Akron, at Fun Fun Fun Fest 2010. But, guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh had nearly severed his thumb tendon the day before the show, and they cancelled. Which eventually led to the present day, and this show, at ACL Live.
The Opening Act - Octopus Project
For openers, Devo selected Austin Electronic Act, Octopus Project. I have seen them several times before, I can't say they're my cup of tea. I think that lack of vocals is a deal killer for me, with this band.
When Devo finally hit the stage, it was like a flashback to 33 years ago. You can see the setlist here. There was a good amount of material from Are We Not Men, and Duty Now for the Future.
The big surprises for me, were that they dared to play Mongoloid in this PC era, and Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA. I would have loved to have heard Gut Feeling, Come Back Johnny, and Space Junk, but it was not to be.
Needless to say, I've had the earbuds full of Devo for the past week.