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Hat Band

by Kirsten Ferguson on August 4, 2010

Northern Lights, July 31

The Devolution of Clifton Park: Devo at Northern Lights.

Devo are clearly a band who inspire a level of devotion among fans, thanks to their compelling blend of futuristic kitsch, subversive humor and twitchy new wave that never seems to go out of style. Anticipation for the band’s arrival onstage ran high as the number of concertgoers wearing plastic Devo energy hats multiplied (they were on sale at the merch table for $30).

And Devo didn’t disappoint. In front of a flashing red strobe and a grainy computerized video backdrop, the five members of Devo—brothers Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh, brothers Jerry and Bob Casale, and new drummer Jeff Friedl—came onstage to cheers. Despite their stated belief in “de-evolution,” or the regression of humankind, Devo’s sound and look has actually evolved over time (or perhaps devolved). The band’s new uniforms are gray with matching masks, their traditional red energy hats have been updated to “focus-group tested” electric blue, and their new album, Something for Everybody, has a contemporary electropop sound.

The band hit the most synth-heavy songs in their repertoire early on, including three from Everybody, their first album since 1990. New song “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)” name-checked both hybrid cars and the au courant catchphrase, “Don’t tase me, bro,” while “What We Do” had a postmodern industrial dance beat.

Despite the up-to-date references, the band—going on 37 years now since forming in Akron, Ohio, in 1973—looked their age in certain ways: Mark Mothersbaugh’s gray hair and brainy spectacles made him look like the mad, aging genius that he is. But as band members ran vigorously in place onstage, or broke out synchronized karate chops for “Peek-A-Boo!,” their perpetual willingness to entertain by being ridiculous—no matter how old they are—seemed all the more charming.

A costume change into blue hats and black Devo shirts brought about the awesome one-two pairing of “Girl U Want” and “Whip It,” which could have set up an anticlimactic second half of the show since both hits are likely encores. The show only got better from there, though.

With an image of Planet Earth on the video backdrop and a disembodied voice welcoming “your fellow travelers in space and time, Devo” back onstage, the band returned from a momentary break wearing yellow plastic jumpsuits and strapped with guitars. The guitar-heavy lineup gave the second half of the show a more punk-rock sound, and the song selection until the end was pretty amazing: “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Secret Agent Man,” “Jocko Homo,” “Gates of Steel,” and their jittery rendition of the Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” one of the greatest covers ever.

The encore included “Freedom of Choice” and “Beautiful World,” performed by Booji Boy, a weird falsetto-singing manchild creation whose significance is probably only fully understood by true De-volutionaries.