It was a cold, wet November night fifteen years ago when I was sitting in the Holiday Star Plaza Theatre in Merrillville, Indiana waiting for Devo to take to the stage.
Leave it to Devo to have a concert in a theatre where you would expect someone like Tom Jones to headline.
Maybe it was intentional, a little “de-evolution” humor from the Spudboys. It seemed fitting for a band like Devo that had made a name for themselves by defying critics and rock and roll purists alike to play such a venue. While it might not have the same resonance as The Beatles at Shea Stadium or The Band at Fillmore East, Devo at the Holiday Star was an incredible concert.
Billed as an “Evening With Devo” it has remained one of the best concerts I have ever been to.
I first heard of Devo one night four years before in 1978 when I caught them performing “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” on Saturday Night Live. Maybe it was the radioactive suits they were wearing or the frenetic guitar playing and vocal stylings of frontman Mark Mothersbaugh that got me hooked. All I know is the next weekend I was at my local Tower Records buying the spuds’ first album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo.
At a time when music was changing and something called “new wave” was re-packaging the early punk sound, Devo was one band that sort of defied any kind of label. With a bit of histrionics thrown in for good measure, the music that Devo played was a far cry from anything that was being played on the radio. A year later, a resurgence of rock would take place sounding the death knell for disco and the “mega-stadium bands” of the 70s. Without question, the band was one of the early pioneers of the new wave sound; but then again I think the spud boys would probably disagree.
I bought all their records, but their first one will always be my favorite. Maybe it was the Brian Eno touch that has made it a classic. Even now, almost 30 years after it first came out, it is still rocks. I have never grown tired of songs like “Come Back Jonee,” “Jocko Homo,” “Gut Feeling” (which was a pleasant addition to The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou soundtrack), and my all-time favorite spud classic “Uncontrollable Urge” (which was always a crowd stopper when performed live).
Before I saw Devo that night, I was lucky to have caught some great concerts in the early 80’s by some classic New Wave acts including The Pretenders, Ultravox, and The Stray Cats. While these bands and concerts will always be near and dear to me, especially for someone who was really getting into the new wave scene at the time, there was always something unique about Devo and their sound that made them stand out from other bands of the post-punk new wave era. One thing is for certain when it came to Devo and their music: either you were into them or you despised them.
When I heard that they were going to playing at the Holiday Star Plaza Theatre (the band was on tour to promote the recently released Oh No It’s Devo album) there was no way that I was going to miss this concert. Although the album is my least favorite of their first four albums, (a few songs/videos had already gotten some airplay on MTV—at a time when MTV was still pretty hip—before I saw them in concert) their video stylings were definitely classic Devo which they would incorporate into their live show.
There was no opening act either—just Devo. Actually, I think it would have been hard for any band to open for them.
Leave it to the Spuds to have it their way.