A beer- and sweat-soaked crowd of thousands gathered at the Del Mar Race Track on Saturday to watch iconic New Wave oddballs Devo preach their theory of de-evolution. Scheduled to play at seven, the group didn’t actually start until eight, but the annoyed grumbling that had begun to crescendo amongst the tightly packed sardines in the crowd immediately subsided once the band took to the stage.
Though their yellow jumpsuits might have been a size or two larger than the ones they wore in the eighties, the band’s gleeful enthusiasm showed no signs of old age. Their energy proved contagious as the sweaty young whippersnappers in the crowd repeatedly danced, moshed, and crashed into indignant baby boomers.
Devo were in fine form, ably serving up hits like “Whip It”, “Girl U Want”, and their cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” for the ravenous crowd. The synthesizer and drum effects were appropriately goofy, and the band’s choreographed theatrics—which included synchronized dance moves and the tearing off of their jumpsuits, revealing black spandex and kneepads underneath—added to the experience. Still, the band has been playing these songs for decades, so it hardly seems praise-worthy that they do them well. But if the sheer enormity of the crowd that gathered to watch them play is any indication, the group could go on milking the same tried and true shtick for decades to come.
The band ended their set on a very awkward note, as singer Mark Mothersbaugh came out to perform their final song dressed as a character called Booji Boy. The ill-advised costume consisted of a mask of what appeared to be a child with Down’s syndrome, wearing a nightgown, baseball cap, and sparkly bling-bling necklace, and singing in a pre-pubescent falsetto. Even from a band that boasts a song called “Mongoloid” among their more notable accomplishments, the result was cringe inducing.
Overall, Devo gave the crowd exactly what they wanted. Their set was exactly what one would expect, full of predictable eccentricities, but with few real surprises to be had. It is hard to see a band that was once on music’s cutting edge now reduced to little more than a nostalgia act, reenacting their heyday like Robert Ford killing Jesse James every night for bloodthirsty theatregoers. Though they might go about playing their hackneyed old songs with more aplomb than, say, Blondie do, the result is still a bit sad.
“Who here believes in de-evolution?” guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh asked at one point, before pointing at people in the crowd. “For evidence of it, you needn’t look far…” Though just another part of the band’s campy routine, the line was nonetheless spoken from a place of detached superiority—Devo The Wise sitting in judgment on the decay of an unenlightened species. Yet the words rang hollow, coming from a band that, for the past twenty years, has not seen fit to evolve at all.