See Devo Perform Live for the Very First Time (Kent State University, 1973)

Kent State Uni­ver­si­ty is known as the site of two impor­tant events in Amer­i­can cul­ture: the mas­sacre of May 4, 1970, and the for­ma­tion of Devo. When the Nation­al Guard shot thir­teen stu­dents at a Viet­nam War protest, it sig­naled to many the end of the youth-dri­ven opti­mism of the late 1960s. It also moti­vat­ed a group of musi­cal­ly inclined under­grad­u­ates to con­sol­i­date the band/conceptual art project they’d premised on the idea of “de-evo­lu­tion.” Around that time, the group’s founders, art stu­dents Ger­ald Casale and Bob Lewis, met a key­boardist named Mark Moth­ers­baugh, who con­tributed some of the sig­na­ture musi­cal and comedic sen­si­bil­i­ties of what would become Devo.

“The band, or at least a band known as Sex­tet Devo, first per­formed at a 1973 arts fes­ti­val in Kent,” writes Calvin C. Ryd­bom in The Akron Sound: The Hey­day of the Mid­west­’s Punk Cap­i­tal. Fill­ing out that sex­tet were Casale’s broth­er Bob, drum­mer Rod Reis­man, and vocal­ist Fred Weber. A hand­out for the show promis­es a series of “polyrhyth­mic exer­cis­es in de-evo­lu­tion,” includ­ing a num­ber called “Pri­vate Sec­re­tary,” footage of which appears above.

“The group were all dressed odd­ly, Bob in scrubs, Jer­ry in a butcher’s coat, Bob Lewis behind the key­boards in a mon­key mask, and Mark in a doc­tor’s robe,” writes George Gimarc in Punk Diary: The Ulti­mate Trainspot­ter’s Guide to Under­ground Rock, 1970–1982. “The audi­ence was, at times, con­fused, amused, and some even danced.”

Sex­tet Devo “would have been off the charts in most envi­ron­ments,” says Myopia, a ret­ro­spec­tive vol­ume on Moth­ers­baugh­’s work. At the Kent Cre­ative Arts Fes­ti­val “the band actu­al­ly fit with­in the spec­trum of nor­mal behav­ior, albeit at the far end of the scale.” But even their most appre­cia­tive view­ers could­n’t have known how far the con­cept of de-evo­lu­tion had to go, to say noth­ing of the pop-cul­tur­al heights to which the odd­balls onstage would car­ry it. Just five years lat­er, Devo would make their nation­al-tele­vi­sion debut as a quin­tet on Sat­ur­day Night Live, “de-evolv­ing” the Rolling Stones’ “Sat­is­fac­tion.” But they did­n’t for­get where they’d come from: near­ly thir­ty years after their first show, they came back around to 1970 for a de-evo­lu­tion of Cros­by, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

New Wave Music – DEVO, Talk­ing Heads, Blondie, Elvis Costel­lo — Gets Intro­duced to Amer­i­ca by ABC’s TV Show, 20/20 (1979)

Devo De-Evolves the Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Sat­is­fac­tion”: See Their Ground­break­ing Music Video and Sat­ur­day Night Live Per­for­mance (1978)

The Phi­los­o­phy & Music of Devo, the Avant-Garde Art Project Ded­i­cat­ed to Reveal­ing the Truth About De-Evo­lu­tion

The Mas­ter­mind of Devo, Mark Moth­ers­baugh, Presents His Per­son­al Syn­the­siz­er Col­lec­tion

DEVO Is Now Sell­ing COVID-19 Per­son­al Pro­tec­tive Equip­ment: Ener­gy Dome Face Shields

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.


by | Permalink | Comments (2) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.