Devo @ the Bank of America Pavillion 27-Jun-08

So this was our big brand-name rock show of the year. Terri instigated it (I kind of peaked with Devo sometime in high school), but I figured what the hey.

Tom Tom Club opened. I wasn’t really a fan of their music back in the day and I’m still not. But I really enjoyed their set; they were really pretty solid, and they had a ton of energy and they were just a great dance band. And now that I have gotten a little more of a taste for the NYC post-punk scene, I kind of get their context a little more– they easily could have showed up in Downtown 81 alongside James White and The Blacks or Kid Creole and the Cocoanuts. It was also much harder back when the Talking Heads were still in operation to see them as their own thing, but that is a little more obvious to me now. And the very afro-beat / world music sound of the last Talking Heads record seems less of a David Byrne tangent.

Devo was pretty faithful to their schtick– no big deviations in their stage show from the DVD we have of their 1980 stage show. Pretty similar set list, too. Their yellow hazmat suits are a little wider. But the spirit was still intact, and they had people up and dancing from the start. Some of the little films that they projected were clearly vintage Devo, but seemed like they might have been re-dubbed. And for the last song, Boojie Boy came out wearing some kind of frock and a pink baseball cap with a rhinestone skull-and-crossbones on it; during his nonsensical diatrabe I could sense the mood in the place was patient, but there was just a touch of “um, maybe you could take that stupid mask off and play Whip It again?”, but I think it was probably my favorite part of the set. And you know, it really is something to see the little film of them from 1981 in their Duty Now for the Future outfits with the wind in their hair, projected 30 feet high, with the Devo Corporate Anthem playing, with a few thousand other people in a place called the “Bank of America Pavillion” drinking a fluorescent green “margarita” from a slushee machine on a summer night. Mmmmm. Devolution.

17 thoughts on “Devo @ the Bank of America Pavillion 27-Jun-08”

  1. It’s like you’re reading my mind lately, first with the Kinks reference and now with Devo. I was going to post something about their lawsuit against McDonalds and (indirectly American Idol). Apparently, the Devo guys take their copyright very seriously. When viewed against your “Bank of America Pavilion” and “margarita” anecdote it just makes the whole thing look kind of sad; a bunch of guys, past their prime making money by recreating their old act from 30 years ago and now they’re
    morally outraged that someone is making money off their weird headgear.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/4583430a12.html

  2. It’s like I’m reading your mind and disagreeing with everthing I find in there! If you had the chance to sue McDonalds and didn’t, you’d be shirking your moral duty. Besides, I think this modern attitude that copyright is uncool is stupid, and I hope it runs its course soon.

    I guess I did sound a little dismissive that the show was a perfect copy of a 1980 Devo show. But it’s what I expected, and in a way, that’s perfect. Part of what made them work was that they were Warner Brothers Recording Artists Devo, making a Product: it fits with their aesthetic posture: we wear futuristic uniforms, we are corporate drones, we wear bright colors, our music is simple. There is still that incongruity when 60′s bands play the big corporate venues, but with Devo, it really is perfect, I was being completely serious. The only thing that feels dated to me is the cold war element.

  3. I’m not saying copyright is “uncool”. There’s nothing particularly cool about obeying the law or getting regular prostate exams but you don’t hear me telling people to disregard doing that. Just because something is “uncool” doesn’t make it wrong. Artist have a right to make money (lots of money if they can pull it off) and thus they have a vested interest in protecting those attributes that identify their product. What bugs me is that Devo has made strong anti-corporate statements while shilling for such corporations as Dell, Coca Cola and Honda. I’ve even seen licensed versions of the “energy dome” in costume shops. I should also point out that Devo claims to own the copyright to the energy dome even though they have, at times, claimed to have ripped the idea straight out of a Little Lulu comic or copied it from an old lampshade. I’m sure those aren’t the exact origins of their distinctive hat but if so then the idea isn’t really theirs to own, even if nobody else was exactly clamoring for it. I can and do make a distinction between art and commerce – it bugs me to hear Iggy Pop’s “Lust for Life” used in ads for a luxury cruise line but I still love the song and I don’t respect Pop any less as an artist. Now “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays” is being used in an AARP commercial (they say Punk’s not dead but evidently it’s reached retirement age) but I still like the Buzzcocks.

    It’s just the perceived double standard that bugs me a little bit. I know that Devo is being ironic to a degree but I don’t think they are really anti-corporate if they are still willing to take the money. Are they morally outraged that McDonald’s and American Idol is appropriating their image or are they just upset because they think Devo should be getting a cut of that Happy Meal Money? If the answer is the latter I think they are perfectly justified in taking them to court. If the answer is the former they are still legally justified but they ceded a good part of the moral highground a long time ago.

    Furthermore, I don’t think I need to point out the irony that Devo’s act hasn’t evolved much since the 80s. It sounds like, if anything, they’ve devolved into a nostalgia act; sort of like Kiss for the art rock/geek crowd. And that’s totally cool if that’s your bag.

  4. See, I disagree somewhat about the ending. I think you’d had too many of those big beers or something. We were among the younger people there–a lot of the concert goers were not new to the Devo thing. A lot of them probably knew the songs even better than we do. The women in front of us were very excited to hear “Beautiful World.” It’s just not as dance-y a song as “Girl U Want” or “Mongoloid.” Sure, maybe a few people thought “wtf” when Booji Boy came out, but in some little way that’s part of the point. I think most of the folks there were willing to let Devo take them wherever Devo felt like going. I mean, they’re DEVO.

    Marco, I think Devo has the right to have creative control over their art. Yeah, maybe they are making money off of Dell or whatever. I don’t see that as being incongruous with the Devo aesthetic. Letting somebody else just use your stuff without you having anything to do with it is very NOT Devo. It’s THEIR freedom of choice to do what they wish with their art.

    That slushee margarita was perfect. It saved my life–though, unfortunately, it could not save my feet.

    As for their copyright… I think they’re quite serious about it because this is their Art (yeah, with a capital A). Devo is so unique–and it’s not just a band, and that’s why it’s lasted. It’s a parallel, but alternative, view of the world. It sure as hell isn’t McDonald’s.

    And I don’t think they’re a nostalgia act, because I feel like they still seem to be what they sell themselves as. I think that’s why Devo appeal to me so much in the first place–because there’s something very genuine about them. They’re the perfect real fakes, maybe (Ezra, I guess you’re the arbiter of real fakeness here, so tell me if I’ve got it wrong). This is who they are, because they’ve chosen to be this way. I see them differently than I used to… I “get” them in a different way. Of course, it might just be me, but I think their schtick still works in a very real way.

  5. Terri, there is no topic that Ezra and I can’t quibble over. That’s been a dynamic in our friendship as long as we’ve known each other. All I can say in defence is that he usually starts it! Since I don’t share that history with you I will just concede now to your superior arguments. You’re absolutely right, on all points.

    Tim, I wasn’t aware of the existence of Devo 2.0 until about two months ago when I was looking through the CD shelves at the local library. I picked up the CD, stared at it with incredulity and then put it back on the shelf, certain that it was one of those things that should not be.

  6. “Terri, there is no topic that Ezra and I can’t quibble over. That’s been a dynamic in our friendship as long as we’ve known each other.” Heh… yes, I’ve noticed.

  7. One man’s hypocrisy is another man’s art project.

    I think we have reached the point of vehement agreement, Marco; I agree that their “philosophy” is counter to their coziness with selling out if you take it at face value. They are too smart to not to have noticed, and the fact that they won’t give a straight answer to questions about this (or, like Warhol, to questions about whether or not the whole thing is a joke) means that they are deliberately keeping this ambiguous. It’s part of the project, and it always has been.

    Anyway, I was very tempted to start yelling “RUUUUUGRAAAAAAATS! Play the Rugrats song!!!!!!!

  8. Tim, Canada did NOT annex Texas. We’ve simply agreed to combine forces, thus surrounding the lower 48. In exchange Canada gets Hawaii as a winter vacation spot in and Texas gets to drill every last drop of oil out of Alaska. That and the occasional ski trip.

  9. re: selling out – I also think it matters what you DO with the money. e.g., Chumbawamba took a lot of money from some megacorp (I forget which one) and (at least issued press releases claiming that they) used the money to fund awareness campaigns about the evils of the megacorp.

    the other thing I usually want to point out when this topic comes up: many, many record deals are written so that the artist would not have veto power over licensing the music for use in ads; it’s strictly the record company’s decision.

  10. Oh, and I remembered over dinner that Tom Tom Club did a great version of “Take Me To The River” and I thought good on them for stealing back a Talking Heads song that was never really a Talking Heads song. But they also played “You Sexy Thing” which was a little unfortunate.

  11. What the “Marco & Tim” sideshow is referrring to, is Marco’s non-standard (at least for us Yanks) spelling of the word “defence” (also known as defense to red-blooded Americans). Since the spelling Marco used is more commonly used in the British Commonwealth, I called him out on it and thus laid down my inquiriy about Texas being in bed with Canada. Marco, being Marco, took it and ran with it. Makes even more sense nowadays what with all that oil shale and crap.

  12. “You Sexy Thing” was very unfortunate, even if it was for Tina’s parents. Talking Heads used to do “Take Me to the River” as well.

  13. For what it’s worth, I also spell ‘grey’ with an ‘e’. If it didn’t look precious I would probably spell color as ‘colour’ and it took me a while to stop spelling ‘theater’ as ‘theatre’. At least I’ve learned to spell and pronounce ‘nuclear’ correctly.

    Performing “You Sexy Thing” is unfortunate. Performing “You Sexy Thing” for your parents is just…wrong.

    And with that, I’ll stop.

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