with slideshow: Decades later, DEVO still ahead of the curve, still having fun
Even after 35 years of de-evolution, DEVO’s off-kilter marriage of high concept and low humor still plays ahead of its time.
On Tuesday at the Power Center, the band revisited its entire, groundbreaking catalog, bringing it all back not to the place where it started, but where it first caught a foothold in the art-rock market.
“The first time anyone ever heard of DEVO was at the Ann Arbor Film Festival in 1976,” co-founder and bassist Gerald Casale said toward the end of the band’s 90-minute set.
A short film by and about the band, "The Complete Truth About De-Evolution," won a prize at that year’s film festival.
“So it’s great to be back here in Ann Arbor,” he said.
And it seemed as if the band — featuring the classic lineup of Casale, his brother Bob Casale on synthesizer and guitar, guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh and keyboardist-singer Mark Mothersbaugh — was having fun, mixing songs from its fine new album, “Something for Everybody,” with cuts dating back to its first record.
The performance was multi-media theater of the absurd. With classic DEVO film footage — much of it recut from “The Truth About De-Evolution” — serving as a visual backdrop, frontman Mark Mothersbaugh melded the band’s big ideas about devolution with vaudeville stage tricks and slapstick humor, while the rest of the band provided those trademark pulsating rhythms.
Changing from one iconic look to another — flowerpot hats, yellow jumpsuits — the band covered the “hits,” including “Whip It,” “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Girl U Want” and “Mongoloid,” while offering a healthy dose of the new material, which blended together seamlessly.
From its music to its look to its stage show, DEVO is about juxtaposition: industrial noise next to catchy melodies; synthesizers mixed with analog drums, high concepts vs. mass appeal. Form and function. Sound and vision. Taken as a whole, Tuesday’s concert wasn’t unlike like a collision between Blue Man Group and Kraftwerk if Kraftwerk had more of a sense of fun and Blue Man Group more of a sense of purpose.
And ultimately — at the risk of putting too fine a point on what really was little more than a really good, fun, uplifting rock ’n’ roll show — it seems that DEVO, on Tuesday, was mostly about finding beauty amid the decay of the modern world. There was an overarching thread of positivism that ran through the show. One might almost call it uplifting.
As Mothersbaugh, in the guise of the band’s Booji Boy mascot, sang in the show closing “Beautiful World, “It’s a wonderful time to be here / It’s nice to be alive.”