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DEVOtional: This Year’s Menagerie of Mutants


With a stunning fifty years under their belt and its original members clinging to their seventies, Kent State’s own DEVO still remain a force to be reckoned with. Fresh off of a ravaging European tour—their first invasion since the nineties for most countries affected—they’ve already placed the west coast and Australia in their sights for later this year. Art DEVO 1973-1977, an earth-quaking collection of recently unearthed, razor toothed cuts from their hardcore Akronite basement days, was unleashed to roaring applause earlier this month. A commemorative greatest hits n’ misses box set currently looms on the horizon.

For die-hard DEVO fans, the culmination of any year of De-Evolutionary Army triumph is DEVOtional, an annual convention of sorts celebrating the band. Since 2000, DEVOtees have been descending on northeast Ohio to revel in their favorite band’s music and media. “[It] started with a very small cadre of hardcore alien types and has grown into the mega event it is today,” says Malcolm Tent, a regular performer, vendor and curmudgeon of the DEVOtional scene. “I’ve enjoyed watching attendance rise and seeing all the new blood getting involved.”

DJ Lance Rock, who worked with DEVO members on Yo Gabba Gabba!, and Delaney Jae, who has issued numerous DEVO releases in the past few years through Futurismo Inc., graced the stage as special guests to much crowd satisfaction, with the former delighting everyone from kids to adults. While members of the band, most commonly co-founder Jerry Casale, often show up, they were too busy to lend an arm this year. With frontman Mark Mothersbaugh selling DEVOtional out for the first time ever last year, it was a nice breather, allowing fans to focus on catching up with one another—and, of course, the music.

Baltimore’s Devoids opened Friday strong with faithful, foot-stomping renditions of tracks from Freedom of Choice, the album that brought us “Whip It.” The Bamboo Bimbos followed in the noble spirit of Art DEVO, donning scruffy boiler suits, stalker masks and dinged-up hard hats for a brutal set of throwback hardcore ditties.

Tent’s set came next; always offering a different slab per year of deep cuts and thematics that often edge towards performance art, his set this year focused on “punk” versions of overlooked DEVO songs. Wielding a battle-worn chestnut Flying V and backed by a $7 thrift store Yamaha drum machine, he ended his set by marching off the stage through the ballroom’s doors like a true DEVO foot soldier, dutiful in serving up his annual dose of de-evolved mindscrew. “I’m compelled to come up with new ways of presenting myself onstage at DEVOtional. And those ways are audience specific to DEVOtional,” he says. “I enjoy the creative challenge.”

The Fantastic Plastics, a mainstay of the event for years, closed Friday with over an hour of their trademark neon-soaked synth-pop-rock. With their bubbly odes to consumerism and extremely sick theremin solos, they hold a special place in the hearts of both DEVOtional attendees and regular watchers of their Twitch livestream alike. As an added bonus, “Weird Paul” Petroskey—Pittsburgh’s bowl cut-rocking VHS tape loyalist—joined them for a song of his, “Peanut Butter Recall.”

After a long night of partying, the beautiful mutant attendees woke up Saturday afternoon to Johnny Spud, whose members rushed the stage in monkey masks and homemade ponchos before launching into amped-up takes on Devo classics. Muzzle followed, featuring DEVOtional and Akron music scene mainstay Poopy Necroponde for a searing set of intense originals and DEVO deep cuts. To steal Malcolm Tent’s words, where he brought the punk, Muzzle brought the hardcore, imprinting possibly the heaviest music of the weekend.

“I thought all of the performances were great!” quips a reflective Tent. “DEVOtional has always attracted a certain caliber of musician who understands DEVO and appreciates the value of stagecraft. We seem to get more, and perhaps even better, of them every year.”

After Q&As with the special guests, Massive Hotdog Recall—fronted by Mark Mothersbaugh’s cousin Al—stormed the stage to do what they do best: bring the party. With mighty trombone in hand, a shirtless and occasionally front-wedged Al led his band through thumping DEVO covers and originals—such as “$150 Bill,” accompanied by Al showering the audience in greenbacks with his face printed on them, and “Kick My Ass in the Balls.”

Recent DEVOtional staples Fight Milk and their staple electrifying video tracks followed. Frontman Jackson Leavitt and occasional second member Tavi—energized from seeing DEVO when they stopped at his home base of Helsinki—guided the audience through this year’s platter of razor sharp synth pop highlights versus intense, throbbing takes from the band’s earlier days. The group’s set wrapped up with a frantic Jackson sporting a Shaye Saint John mask and bathrobe; but the cherry on top was the final song, the searing original “I Want To Go Home,” linking the band’s DEVOtional success to Jackson’s performances back in Washington state and setting computer-beamed telescopes towards a bright, pronk-drenched future.

The night concluded with Kent, Ohio favorites Detention, who have rocked the DEVOtional stage since 2018, when its members were practically wee babes. Now two of its members attend DEVO’s alma mater, and their high energy shows and sneering, angsty attitude have gained them regional stardom among relatable youths and starry eyed elders alike. With lead singer Elliott Carter’s hair a searing teal and green, they catapulted through numerous originals and plenty of fun-filled DEVO covers—from crowd favorite “Uncontrollable Urge” to a head banging-ly heavy take on “Be Stiff.” Like the other bands on the bill, they reflect a primal gestation that just about every DEVOtional attendee can relate to—as newbies come and go (or stick around for the long haul) and old friends congregate for beer, talk, and weird trinkets. It’s that urge to keep the music going, to keep the drinks flowing, to rejoice in a starburst of effigy and enjoyment in rejection of the slippery-slope, wiggly world outside.

All that’s needed are some east coast dates for the de-evolution band themselves and humanity’s collective happy fate of Rust Belt disintegration will be sealed.

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Sophia Swengel
Sophia Swengel, Writer
Sophia is a writer for Kentcore. With penmanship like her's, she's a force to be reckoned with.
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  • Z

    ZwinglimasOct 11, 2023 at 7:01 pm

    Fantastic review!

  • M

    Michael PilmerOct 11, 2023 at 2:49 pm

    This is fantastic!