To see five beyond-middle-aged men beneath spotlights baring stark white thighs in gym shorts and knee-pads could be the stuff of nightmares for some. To see one of these 60-year-old men soak a bath towel with his sweaty nether-regions and watch a spectral crowd of men, women, hipster 20-somethings and kids battle for its ownership could be too absurd an image for others.
And to think that the last (and probably only) time you’ve witnessed this eclectic bunch—who just finished a 2011 tour Sunday—is frozen in a 1980 video image of the band donning red, upside-down-flower-pot-looking hats (proper name: “energy domes”) while singing the words you were somehow born knowing—“Whip it! Whip it good!”—well, that’s to be expected.
But 20 years since its last studio release, Devo has re-emerged into a scene that’s gotten comfortable with the unconventional premise set forth by the band nearly 40 years ago. Then, its unique and cynical social commentary built upon satire and a belief in “devolution”—the concept behind the band’s namesake that man’s progress has ceased and de-evolution begun, as evidenced by society’s mass dysfunction—wasn’t easily relatable.
Now, an up-and-coming generation reawakened to the ideas of political corruption, anti-capitalist sentiment and the almighty synthesizer has latched onto Devo’s July 2010-released “Something for Everyone,” a high-energy synthpop piece rife with disdain for human consumerism and governmental power abuse.
“The world is in sync with Devo,” said Devo co-founder, vocalist and bass guitar/synthesizer player Gerald Casale on the band’s website. “We’re not the guys who freak people out and scare them—we’re like the house band on the Titanic, entertaining everybody as we go down.”
Such an allusion to tragedy comes as no surprise when learning that the Akron, Ohio natives were directly influenced by the 1970 Kent State University shootings (Casale personally knew two of the four killed and was nearby when one was shot), and the band claims the event and its societal aftermath as the catalyst behind its 1973 inception.
Devo’s response to these and other instances of power abuse echoes even in “Something for Everyone,” the band’s first album of new material since 1990’s “Smooth Noodle Maps.” The album’s “Don’t Shoot (I’m A Man)” reiterates the idea of police over-action, citing the 2007 Tasing of University of Florida student Andrew Meyer during a university-sponsored John Kerry appearance:
They’ll hunt you down. They’ll Tase you bro for playin’ with the rules.
The band’s straightforwardly critical lyrics and societal lampooning make the depressing idea of Humanity Lost a more enjoyable one, with the band packing shows on its 2011 tour and evoking crowds to consider man’s downfall while wildly dancing in time to its upbeat sound.
At Devo’s Friday appearance in Houston, the crowd cheered and hollered in response to Casale asking, “How many people here believe devolution is real?” just before they performed “Jocko Homo,” the band’s “anthem” of sorts from its 1978 debut album. Lead vocalist and Devo co-founder Mark Mothersbaugh hopped down into the maniacal crowd.
“Are we not men?!” he yelled, shoving his microphone in front of the fanatics’ faces, anticipating the question’s sole response:
“WE ARE DEVO!”