Devo/Rusty Egan (DJ set)

Hammersmith Apollo, London - 19 August 2023

"The likes of Devo will never been seen again"

Devo's final date on what has been billed as their farewell tour, was always going to be an emotional night. They weight of expectation alone was palpable among the packed, sold out crowd of the Hammersmith Apollo. It was a curious mix of the middle-aged (I lost count of the number of people I overhead say "I last saw them here in 1980"), as well as younger fans seizing the opportunity to see some true legends in action while they still can. The band's trademark 'flowerpot' energy domes were flowing freely at the merch desk, and you had to feel for anyone standing behind one of the very many fans that had them on.

This was not my first time seeing Devo, but the most recent experience of seeing them perform Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo in its entirety had been somewhat of a let down, the band visibly going through the motions. The fizzing atmosphere this time round, aided and abetted by a triumphant warm up DJ set from Rusty Egan, meant that I knew things would be different.

Devo - London 19 August 2023    Devo - London 19 August 2023    Devo - London 19 August 2023

The show began with the screening of an excerpt from the Rod Rooter's Big Ream film, a hilarious satire on the music industry (with Rod Rooter as the cigar-chomping executive) which the band used during intermissions for their 1979 tour. As the film ends, it cuts to modern times with Rod Rooter 43 years on (still played by Michael W. Schwartz) reflecting on Devo as his greatest music industry regret. It was very encouraging to see Devo already begin to sign off on the conceptually satirical note they began on some 50 years ago. Short films continued to create several episodes during the gig, allowing for the odd costume change and rearrangement of gear. In the hand of others it might kill the vibe, but not tonight and never with Devo.

To be completely honest, after the brilliant film intro, the gig didn’t get off to the most powerful of starts, the band choosing to kick off with new song Don't Shoot (I'm A Man) rather than a one that most of the crowd would immediately recognise. Nothing against the new material, but it was a strange choice for an opener. The immediate set up for the first few numbers drew on Devo's slightly later, more electronic catalogue, with Gerry Casale stuck behind a synth bass, and Josh Hagar (replacing the much-missed Bob 2) rooted behind a small synth stack. Nothing wrong with the choice of material, but it did mean that the musicians were largely static behind their instruments, which didn't quite inject the energy the crowd needed for the first fifteen minutes or so.

Devo - London 19 August 2023    Devo - London 19 August 2023    Devo - London 19 August 2023

Soon enough, after the first mini interlude, the synth bass was gone and Hagar strapped on a guitar for a few numbers, with Mark Mothersbaugh moving back and forth between synths and front of stage. Kudos also to Motherbaugh for using what appeared to be vintage analogue synths. From that point on things just got better and better, as Devo cantered through a breathless set of absolutely electrifying classics, from Freedom of Choice, to Gut Feeling, to Beautiful World.

It was a 'no-surprises', crowd-pleasing set, but delivered with increasing energy and enthusiasm, lapped up by and excited crowd that even saw the odd mosh pit break out. Gerry Casale in particular seemed to be revelling every second, looking remarkably lithe at the age of 75. Trademark Devo moves, such as the choreographed stage movements during Uncontrollable Urge (revolutionary for the time), and the ripping off of the yellow Devo suits, all added to the fun. It never felt nostalgic, perhaps because the band's message is as relevant today as it's ever been (Casale directly referring this in one of the band's few exchanges with the audience).

If anyone needed reminding of how pioneering this band were (live as on record), then tonight the message was delivered loud and clear. The likes of Devo will never been seen again. And whilst there was a tinge of sadness as the thousands slowly shuffled out of the Apollo, there was delight that the chapter had closed in such spectacular fashion. 8/10

Review: Erik Stein
Photos: Yuko Iwatani + Rob Dyer

See Also: INTERVIEW: Devo - We're like the house band on the Titanic