Concert Review: Devo Plays Guitar Hero

| 7/8/2010 3:10:14 PM

Devo at Minnesota Zoo

Devo is often seen as either a synth band or a novelty band, both understandable perceptions for a bunch of robotic space-dorks bearing electronic keyboards and a brain-imprinting hit called “Whip It.” (You can hear it now, can’t you?) But in a concert at the Minnesota Zoo on the eve of Independence Day 2010, Devo reminded me that Bob Mothersbaugh’s punkish, crisp guitar lines were a key reason why I initially latched onto the band back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and why much of its music retains its punch a full 30 years later.

Taking the stage at dusk on a steamy Minnesota night, the men of Devo probably felt they had something to prove: They were playing their first headline concert on a tour celebrating the release of their first album in 20 years. So prove it they did, delivering a 75-minute set that cemented their status as the finest new wave art-school band ever to emerge from Ohio—or the universe, for that matter.

Devo is all about the stage presence, of course, and accordingly they took the stage walking ramrod-straight, wearing reflective gray suits and creepily dehumanizing gray masks, as if they’d just landed on the shores of the zoo pond in a spacecraft. The giant video screen behind them showed images of the heroic spud-men in industrial settings, then they launched into “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man),” a song from their new album, Something for Everybody.

Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh

Like much of the material on the album, the song sounds perfectly of a piece with early-day Devo, yet for many longtime fans, the concert wouldn’t really pick up musically until the band dug into the good old stuff—and that doesn’t, for me, include “Peek-a-Boo” or “Going Under,” older B-list songs that also figured early in the set. Not that we weren’t perfectly amused and entertained by singer Mark Mothersbaugh’s stiffly grandiose gestures or the nonstop video projections. During “What We Do,” ape and human silhouettes did hip thrusts, and during “Fresh,” a go-go girl’s gyrating pelvis was intercut with images of succulent produce.

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