In 1980, I'd reached a point in my adolescence when I was beginning to discover cool rock bands all on my own. This was the year that, all on my own, I'd somehow tapped into an explosive new movement of innovative and exciting music. Sure, the term "New Wave" had already been coined by opportunistic record industry cash-grabbers who were still suffering the backlash of the negativity associated with the dreaded "punk rock" label, but in actuality, New Wave seemed like a fitting tag name. Bands were arising every day and were slowly but surely erasing the significance of stale, outdated arena-rock bands as a new era seemed to be dawning. Two particular bands ranked highest for me during my early days of discovery and budding experimentation: Blondie and Devo. My cheap, rinky-dink turntable was usually spinning one of two albums at all times; either Devo's Freedom of Choice or Blondie's Eat to the Beat. Those two releases were integral parts of my upbringing and helped pave the way for my unending love and admiration of cool music. So, needless to say, I was ecstatic when I heard the summer package tour that both groups had jointly embarked on (the "Whip It to Shreds" tour) was coming our way.
Despite various scheduling and venue conflicts, the England Brothers Park in Pinellas Park got to host the event that doubled as a reunion for so many long lost forgotten "New Wavers" who hadn't placed a trademark Devo energy dome hat on their heads in years. The wide, expansive field (divided up into several sections dictated by ticket prices) became home for the afternoon for many who had bumped and elbowed one another on smokey New Wave club dance floors decades ago. The mostly 40-and-above aged crowd in attendance was treated to a pair of stupendous sets from two of the most well-loved and respected bands from their heyday on this particular Sunday. A suburban park on a warm, weekend afternoon seems like an unlikely place for these two New Wave stalwarts to perform, but make no mistake about it: enthusiasm was at a high from both acts, and especially from the very vocal audience.
Getting things off to a rousing start, Blondie took the stage first under a still-blazing sun at around 6:30 p.m. Opening with a pounding version of one of their biggest hits, "Dreaming," the veteran New York City band led by the still-gorgeous Debbie Harry kicked the afternoon off with a bang. Harry, clad in tight yellow tank top and skimpy black hot pants, still oozes the sex appeal and charisma that have made her the focal point of the band since its incarnation. At 67, Debbie is still a temptress as she belts and coos her way through Blondie staples like "Call Me" and "Atomic." Longtime drummer Clem Burke is as wildly ferocious as ever as he channels the late Keith Moon in his maniacal playing. The other lone original member, guitarist and songwriter Chris Stein, remains the cool, quiet wallflower who rarely approaches front stage and prefers to linger in the background. Rounded out by three relatively new members, the new version of Blondie, supporting their fine 2011 release Panic of Girls, is a tight, well-oiled machine. The band successfully and seamlessly alternated material from Panic with older, classic stuff and the transition was as flawless as it felt natural.
As the sun set and Debbie removed her mirrored shades, she led the band into a deliciously slinky version of "Rapture," the band's No. 1 quasi-rap hit single from 1981 that morphed into an entusiastically-received take on the Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Til Brooklyn." Often criticized by purists for delving into rap, disco and funk, Blondie has never been afraid to mix genres, which has always helped to save them from redundancy. And in perfect display of their genre-hopping, the band wrapped up their 75-minute set with the New Wave camp of "Rip Her to Shreds," the pop-punk of "One Way or Another," and the pulsing disco of set-ending encore, "Heart of Glass."
At roughly 8:10 p.m., amid a wash of lights and freaky sound effects, Akron, Ohio's favorite sons took over the park and launched their loud and crystal-clear sounding assault on the anxious crowd. Judging from all the Devo gear sported by so many of the attendees, it was clear the main attraction was about to begin for most. Opening with "Don't Shoot (I'm a Man") from their fantastic 2010 release Something for Everybody, the audience quickly greeted the band with ear-splitting fervor. Devo has been noticeably absent from our neck of the woods in recent tours and the enthusiastic crowd instantly made them feel welcomed. The band responded by unleashing a collection of hits and album cuts that cleverly represented their long, illustrious career in grand fashion. Most fans who were pressed up against the stage for Devo's entire set (myself included) sang along enthusiastically to "Peek-A-Boo," "Girl U Want" and "Mongoloid."
Still featuring 4/5 of their original lineup, Devo is still one of the most stimulating and wildly original acts to emerge from any scene. A huge part of their allure comes from lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh. When he's not scoring film projects or creating fascinating modern art away from the band, he is the expert freaked-out, possessed, sometimes robotic frontman who whipped the hot sweaty crowd into a frenzy for most of the band's closing set Sunday night.
Masters of visual presentation, the night included several costume changes, instrument shifts and projected images on a massive light screen at the rear of the stage. The entire 90-minute set was a thrill ride of inimitable Devo magic but the loudest ovation came during the encores of "Devo Corporate Anthem" and "Freedom of Choice," which brought the night's final costume change: matching Tampa Bay Rays shirts.
It's curious to think of it as a night of nostalgia considering these two bands have always prided themselves on their modernism. Whichever way it was perceived, it's safe to say that the evening was a hell of a lot of fun for all those who braved the sun and waited out the day for the chance to see these two legendary bands on the same stage.
Blondie set list:
Hanging on the Telephone
Love Doesn't Frighten Me
What I Heard
Wipe Off My Sweat
Rapture/No Sleep Til Brooklyn
Mother in the Night
Rip Her to Shreds
One Way or Another
Heart of Glass
Devo set list:
Don't Shoot (I'm a Man)
What We Do
Girl U Want
(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
Secret Agent Man
Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA
Gates of Steel
Devo Corporate Anthem
Freedom of Choice
Tyler- I can't believe how talented of a writer you are. This article was beautifully…
Great interview! Give the interviewer a full time job! He's great!
The DJ was actually The Castle's very own DJ Tom Gold :)
Fabulous review Gabe! Too bad I missed it.