One of the most unique and revolutionary bands to ever make the Top 40, new wave insurrectionists Devo bring their 50th anniversary tour to the Bay Area for the first of several dates Thursday in Santa Cruz.
The Akron-based agitators got their start as more of a satirical art concept about the "de-evolution" of mankind during the '60s developed by Kent State art students Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis. The idea took a more serious turn after the 1970 shootings of four students by members National Guard during a protest. Casale lost two friends in the tragedy. The pair met talented keyboard player Mark Mothersbaugh and started writing songs with an early version of Devo making it's live debut at a campus performing arts festival in 1973.
The group refined its message, theatrical onstage presentation with masks and costumes and fractured take on rock over the next few years with a fluid membership that included siblings of Casale and Mothersbaugh while Devo also continued to explore experimental film. The short The Complete Truth About De-Evolution won a prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival would later be hailed as one of the earliest conceptual music videos ever made. The addition of Alan Meyers on drums in 1976 would solidify the band's line-up for the next decade.
Notoriety from the film attracted the interest of musical chameleon David Bowie and his friend Iggy Pop, eventually leading to a contract with Warner Bros. Records. Brian Eno produced the band's groundbreaking 1978 debut Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! that -- when not warping the Rolling Stones hit "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction" -- matched angular synth melodies and jagged guitars with nervy, paranoid lyrics and propulsive punk energy that prefigured the new wave explosion of the '80s.
The band quickly moved from being a cult act playing punk clubs on both coasts to far more mainstream media outlets, shocking viewers with their surreal 1978 appearance on Saturday Night Live. While their sophomore effort Duty Now and For the Future didn't make major inroads with its early embrace of mutant synth-pop, 1980's Freedom of Choice scored the band it's first chart single with "Whip It," which became a radio and MTV hit. That coupled with more television appearances on the sketch-comedy show Fridays, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert and American Bandstand propelled the band into arenas.
Devo would never match that commercial success, though subsequent efforts like New Traditionalists and Oh No! It's Devo showed flashes of brilliance and continued to expand the band's cult audience before the diminishing returns of 1984's Shout led to a hiatus. Devo was dropped by Warner Bros. and drummer Meyers departed. They continued to struggle until two poorly received efforts on new label Enigma Records -- 1988's Total Devo and the concert recording Now It Can Be Told: Devo at the Palace -- led the band to split up in 1991.
While members would embark on successful careers during the decade -- Mothersbaugh became a hugely successful soundtrack composer and Casale got into making music videos -- Devo eventually reunited to play some dates on the 1996 Lollapalooza tour and has embarked on periodic tours ever since, including full-album performances of Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! and Freedom of Choice. Devo released its first new album in two decades -- the acclaimed collection Something for Everyone -- in 2010.
The sudden death of Bob Casale led the band to embark on the Hardcore Devo Live Tour in 2014 that focused on the band's formative material and would be released as a live recording and DVD of a performance at the Fox Theater in Oakland. The group issued the unique 2-in-1 book DEVO: The Brand / DEVO: Unmasked that told the band's story in their own words in and headlined the 2018 edition of the Burger Boogaloo in Oakland where they were joined by actor/musician Fred Armisen (SNL and Portlandia) on drums for a spectacular performance that was one of the festival's all-time highlights..
This year, the band announced it would be marking Devo's 50th anniversary with a tour that has already visited Europe, playing a number of summer music festivals. The current line-up features the Mothersbaugh brothers and Jerry Casale joined by longtime auxiliary member Josh Hager and drummer Jeff Friedl. The band is also releasing a pair of new box sets: 50 Years of De-Evolution 1973-2023 on Rhino Records offers a career-spanning collection of remastered classic music and rarities, while the Art Devo: 1973-1977 box that focuses exclusively on obscure -- and in some cases unheard -- early songs from the band's vaults.
The tour presented by Bay Area promoter (((folkYEAH!))) and the Ambassador Theatre Group makes its first swing through the Bay Area this week, with the band headlining the Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium on Thursday before visiting San Francisco for the first of two dates at the Golden Gate Theatre on Sunday. Following a series of shows in the Northwest and Southern California, the show returns to the Golden Gate for a sold-out performance on Tuesday, November 14.
Devo 50th Anniversary Tour
Thursday, Nov. 2, 7 p.m. $83-$157
Santa Cruz Civic Auditorium
Sunday, Nov. 5, 7 p.m. $90.50-$213.50
Golden Gate Theatre
Tuesday, Nov. 14 (sold out), 7 p.m. $90.50-$213.50
Golden Gate Theatre
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