Fifty years ago today, the art-pop iconoclasts Devo took the stage for the first time as “Sextet Devo” at Kent State University’s Creative Arts Festival on April 18, 1973. Gerald V. Casale, co-founder of the band, has penned an insightful reflection on the band’s humble beginnings and the lessons learned from their very first performance, as well as sharing a rare video of that historic gig.
Casale recalls how both artistic vision and clever subversion shaped Devo’s debut performance. The band adopted the “Sextet” title to qualify for the arts festival, as the university gatekeepers regarded it as “art” and not merely rock ‘n’ roll. The eclectic setlist and a lineup featuring Casale on bass, his brother Bob Casale and Bob Lewis on guitar, Fred Weber on lead vocals, Rob Reisman on drums, and Mark Mothersbaugh on keyboards showcased their early explorations in sound and style.
The group performed for a small audience of around 20 students, as they tackled mid-tempo experiments like “Wiggle Worm” and “What Goes Up Must Come Down,” along with a folk-rock piece titled “River Run.” However, it was a malfunctioning Minimoog synthesizer, operated by Mothersbaugh (disguised in a chimpanzee mask), that produced a moment of pure, unadulterated Devo perfection. The band embraced the chaos, with Casale later describing the incident as “devolved genius.”
From this unconventional start, Devo went on to develop their unique critique of technology and conformity culture, spreading the gospel of devolution throughout their career. Casale’s retrospective offers not only a fascinating glimpse into the origins of the band but also valuable lessons for artists. He advises others to sing their own songs, not to be discouraged by doubt and fear, and to practice, do more, and talk less.
To celebrate this golden milestone, fans can enjoy Casale’s full account of Devo’s initial performance on his official site, where he’s dubbed it “50 Years of DEVOlution.” Don’t miss the opportunity to witness the beginning of Devo’s journey by watching the 50-year-old footage of Devo Sextet at Kent State below.
Exactly 50 Years ago today:
“The 1st DEVO Show” by Gerald V. Casale
At Kent State University’s 1973 Creative Arts Festival, we were the “Sextet Devo.” Why was it a sextet? Because my bandmate said that I couldn’t sing……..
— DEVO’s Gerald V. Casale (@Gvc3Casale) April 18, 2023
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