If you’re anything like me, the most you know of Devo is Whip It, and the many times it’s referenced in pop culture. Alongside big hair, too much make up and Mr. T; it’s why the eighties were hilarious. You knew the song and you knew the hat’s but it’s likely you didn’t even remember the name of the band until you were reminded. I was a child of the eighties but I was still watching early morning cartoons into the nineties, so that song has always been a weird old persons song, and I never even thought to seek out any other Devo music.
Until I saw that they were coming to Vancouver. I assumed they had re-formed, but was surprised to learn they’ve been together since 1975 and still going strong, with some band members coming and going of course (though it’s hard to imagine every new member has enjoyed acting like a retarded robot on stage). So I watched a couple of Youtube videos and was surprised to discover that whip it was one of their more ‘normal’ songs. So I wasn’t expecting much from their show on Sunday night, other than some old men on stage singing old strange songs.
What I got was that… and a whole lot more. I was pretty tired going in (thanks to my recent attempts at being healthy) and the opening band Pointed Sticks which consisted of a group of middle aged men who once had a hit did nothing to wake me up – they didn’t even play the hit they had! (according to the two men occupying the row behind me). They had their fans though and they looked like they were enjoying themselves.
But after the break I was hit by a full on tactical assault on my senses and 5 men in silver track suits and masks. I was now awake, but hypnotized, completely. This wasn’t an aging band playing to a smaller theatre, this was a fucking awesome stage show – I wasn’t expecting that at all. But it makes perfect sense, their music without the show wouldn’t be complete. The lights, the kitsch animation, the movements on stage, the humor… they’re all part of the art of De-evolution.
I couldn’t help but be completely drawn into the whole experience. For the longest time, I didn’t even move, so many flashing lights, amusing lyrics, catchy tunes, pretty colors. My attention had be captured and held hostage. And I can tell you now, that is an impressive feat, I can’t even watch TV nowadays without having a laptop on my lap to look at and touch when the images on the TV screen fail to draw me in.
After the masks came off then the jackets, it was easy to spot the older original band members from the ringers. Now the band looked like actual human beings. I was surprised, probably most of all, by the music. I was expecting weird songs with little form to them. What I got was weird, but funny and catchy songs – old and new – with hooks and fun beats. But these guys are really performers, and they are at their best playing to a crowd. I think the whole experience just doesn’t fully translate through and stereo and something is lost, even in a music video.
When Whip it finally played (and let’s be honest, that’s what I was there to see) I was surprised at first by the crowds lack of excitement as it began. But now looking back on it, I see that there wasn’t a lack at all, it’s just that the excitement and energy had been there since the band walked on stage and in every song. Which is more than you can say for most one hit wonders.
I had a great time getting lost in the experience that is Devo and enjoyed it a lot more than I expected. But much more importantly than that, next time Whip it plays on the radio or TV, I can say “I’ve seen Devo perform this live” to anyone that will listen.