Updating the Bands I’ve Seen list lately got me to thinking about Times of Olde, and I realized I’ve never written much about many of the great shows. And I might as well do that, because my memory is not getting any better. In general, I probably remember a show that happened 20 or 25 years ago better than one that happened in 2008, but the brain damage is selective and unpredictable.
My first real concert (seeing the Hooters in a shopping mall doesn’t count) was Devo at the Tower Theater in suburban Philadelphia. If the internet is to be believed, this event took place on November 13, 1982, which means I would have just turned 15.
To say that from 1981 to 1984 I listened to Devo and nothing but Devo would be an exaggeration, but only a slight one (the Cars were in there too). To a kid of my age, gender, class, IQ, and general orientation toward reality, they were the only band that mattered. As I wrote previously (in a piece about how much they’ve betrayed me in later years), their message was one that I found irresistible:
They and I and those like us were not weirdos but superior mutants, and the future belonged to us.
I actually got into Devo sort of late. When I first saw them on Saturday Night Live circa 1978, I reacted with confusion and fear. They were simply too Out There for my immature brain. But by 82 I had drunk the Kool Aid and then some, and with a few friends made the journey to Upper Darby, with very little idea what to expect.
The main thing I remember from this show is how fucking loud it was. I thought I liked to listen to my music loud, but I had never experienced anything like the wave of sound that slammed into us as soon as we entered the theater (we were a little late, having had problems with navigation or parking or something; who can remember?). It was physically painful, and I didn’t want to get any closer, but we actually had pretty good seats, so forward we went into the storm.
After awhile, I think, the initial shock wore off and I was able to enjoy the show. The album they were touring at the time, Oh No! It’s Devo, was and is a major favorite of mine. And of course there was a strong visual component, with videos playing behind the band, who wore their standard uniforms for that era (with what appeared to be upside-down toilet seats around their necks). But that’s about all I remember.
Devo’s next album, 1984’s Shout, would turn out to be a crushing disappointment, and after that I moved on to other things. But I did see Devo two more times. One was when they did a free show on Sproul Plaza in Berkeley in 1989. That was a good one; they did a great acoustic version of “Jocko Homo,” a rockist reboot of “Going Under,” and only the best of their post-golden era songs. The other was at the Omni in Oakland circa 1991, and that was kind of a weird night; the vibe in the venue was strange and the intoxicant mix wasn’t working out, though those may have been related. I remember the show as disappointing, except for the section where they strapped on guitars and played songs from their first album; that was the only part they really seemed to enjoy, and the audience responded in kind. Made me wonder why they didn’t just do that all the time. But so it goes.
Today I would not go to see Devo if you paid me. I’ve already bagged on them once, and don’t feel inclined to do it again, out of respect for what they once meant to me. Suffice it to say: De-evolution is very real. Doubt it at your own peril.