Devo are an Ohio band who sounded like nobody else when they released their debut album Are We Not Men? We Are Devo! in 1978. Their mix of alternative electronic pop music (with more than a little humor) was a refreshing sound that has influenced countless other bands in the forty-plus years since Devo first became known. Devo is the type of band that is perfect for Riot Fest: classic enough for the older demographic in the crowd, but relevant enough for the relative youngsters attending the festival.
When they played Sunday at Riot Fest, Devo mixed films, music, and costume changes to entertain a crowd that was happy to see this legendary band live. Almost all of the members of the mosh pit near the stage were not alive when Devo first became famous. Those of us who saw Devo live “back in the day” were happy to stay away from the melee up front.
Devo opened with “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man)” from their most recent studio album “Something for Everybody,” which was released eleven years ago. Other than that, everything else that Devo sang was from their five albums released between 1978 and 1982. Early on they threw red Devo hats into the crowd, and preceded playing their biggest hit, “Whip It,” by saying “Here’s one we’re working on!” After that Devo left the stage to change into their yellow hazmat suits and return to sing their inventive and diabolical cover versions of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and “Secret Agent Man.”
When Devo played three songs from their debut album right in a row, “Mongoloid,” “Uncontrollable Urge,” and “Jocko Homo,” the audience answered the call “Are We Not Men,” with “We Are Devo!” The band then doffed their hazmat suits to don ape masks. Devo closed their set with two songs from their 1980 release Freedom of Choice: “Gates of Steel” and the title track.
The only disappointment was that the band failed to sing their sarcastic song about being the next big thing, “Through Being Cool,” and their interesting cover version of the Lee Dorsey classic “Working in a Coal Mine.” There’s only so much music you can play in an hour!
*All images: © Phil Solomonson / Philamonjaro Studio