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Davis, California

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

DEVO and Blondie Live

Friday, Sept. 14, 2012: There is no prevailing archetype of concertgoer here at the Sunrise Mall in Sacramento. In the enclosed concert venue in the parking lot, old couples sit near the stage, tapping their toes; young punk girls with ripped leggings sway back and forth in the bleachers; parents bounce toddlers on their shoulders; and new wavers young and old headbang and gyrate with frightening intensity.

These people are here to see two acts who stand out as giants from new wave’s storied past. One is a strange group of humanoids who bridged the gap between three-chord punk rock and futuristic synth-pop, and the other is a flagship act for the New York underground of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, bringing sweeping romantic melodies to new wave rock with their charismatic frontwoman.

On the stage, the first of these bands formed some 40 years ago is unleashing a sonic and visual assault of synthesizers, guitars and music video clips from their storied past. These bizarre invaders are none other than DEVO. Although they are known to most people for their smash hit “Whip It” and their jaunt into the mainstream for much of the early ‘80s, the truth, as always, is far stranger: DEVO began as an early art-rock band who burst from the college scene of Eastern Ohio in the ‘70s with a mad theory of “De-Evolution.”

This prophecy of a downwardly mobile human race is reflected to this day in their performance — the group begins by making an entrance in their new and improved gear (Orwellian gray jumpsuits with strangely molded facemasks), and as the set continues, periodic costume changes take us on a retrograde journey through their various incarnations over the years, from the famous red “energy dome” hats to the yellow nuke-plant suits they wore in 1978 (notably seen on the band at our campus’ own ASUCD Coffee House that year). At the conclusion, the members of DEVO strip down to underclothes and dump what appears to be several bags of pita chips onto the front row.

Musically, DEVO still packs quite a punch, and although “Whip It” remained the crowd favorite, each song continued to raise the energy to danger level, from the more punk-oriented “Uncontrollable Urge” from their first album to the fantastic opening song “Don’t Shoot! I’m a Man!” from their latest release, 2010’s Something for Everyone. On another note, although this was the first release in over two decades from DEVO, similarly quirky work can be heard in the countless soundtracks for film, video games and television that frontman Mark Mothersbaugh has composed over the years.

For the second act, Blondie arrived onstage with the fanfare-ish opener “Dreaming.” Admittedly, the crowd was star-struck as Debbie Harry began to sing old favorites such as “Call Me” and “Rapture,” but what was even more surprising was the fact that, at 67 years old, her vocals sound as if they’re fresh off the record from 30 years prior.

Much of the set made for a satisfyingly nostalgic ride, although Blondie, like their tourmates, played several new songs from their recent album. The album, 2011’s Panic of Girls, has a contemporary dance-rock sound that would not be too uncomfortable among the top charting records today, and the new tracks, such as “Mother” and “D-Day,” settled quite nicely along with the classics.

Other standout moments included the sprinkling of cover songs played, some interesting choices among them being the currently popular Ellie Goulding song “Lights,” Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax,” and an out-of-the-blue rendition of the Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep ‘Til Brooklyn.”

The show ended on the always mesmerizing song “Heart of Glass,” and as the crowd began to shuffle out, the general mood was that of a trance-like state of bliss, sated with all the new-wave nostalgia they could handle.

As the “Whip it to Shreds” tour is ending soon, and as it is uncertain when you will get another chance to see either of these great artists, I propose the moral of this review: Keep your finger to the wind for “bands from the past,” their latest albums and performance dates; much of the time you’ll find that their ability to put on a show has gotten stronger with age.

ANDREW RUSSELL can be reached at arts@theaggie.org.

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