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On a night when the biggest story in pop music was two of this generation’s fading pop stars facing off against each other as judges on rival singing competitions, two of the previous generation’s most influential acts shared the stage at L.A.’s Greek Theatre. Their singers probably wouldn’t make it past the audition stage on one those TV shows, but Wednesday night they showed there’s still plenty of reason to pay attention — more 30 years after scoring their biggest hits.
It’s not an overstatement to say that Blondie, fronted by Deborah Harry, paved the way for everyone from Lady Gaga and Katy Perry to No Doubt and indie popsters Best Coast with the band’s initial blast of pop-punk and later forays into disco, rap and reggae. Likewise, the influence of Devo’s electronic pop can be heard in today’s burgeoning EDM scene.
While the very thought of these new wave pioneers turning into heritage acts goes against everything they once stood for, both have aged fairly well and are making new music, though it’s largely been lost in the shuffle. Their biggest impact in the past few decades has been in films and TV; Devo principals have had successful careers as composers, while Blondie songs have appeared on soundtracks. To that end, today’s pop fans might best know Blondie from a cover version in 1998’s The Rugrats Movie, a film and TV series scored by Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh — who’s also featured on the kids show Yo Gabba Gabba.
During the L.A. stop on their Whip It to Shreds co-headlining tour, both bands delivered the hits and better-known album tracks along with their newer material with varying degrees of success. Devo frontloaded its set with newer tracks including opener “Don’t Shoot (I’m a Man),” whose closing refrain of “Don’t taze me, bro” shows the band is still in touch with the zeitgeist, and “What We Do,” which seemingly mocks the band’s — and our — lack of progress.
The group — which still has brothers Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh and Gerald and Bob Casale at its core — picked up steam as its set progressed and de-evolved into its oldest material, with the members sporting their trademark yellow jumpsuits and trading in their synthesizers for guitars.
It’s worth noting that in 1979, the band titled its second album Duty Now for the Future. Yesterday’s future has passed, and Devo still sounds incredibly modern, especially on its future-funk renditions of such well-worn rock classics as The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” and Johnny Rivers’ “Secret Agent Man.”
Always big on visuals, the band continues to employ several uniform changes throughout the set as well as a hilarious mashup of video images that included bikini girls, weird pets and food — and looked like the equivalent of browsing through Facebook out of your mind on acid and speed. The visual of a French fry penetrating a donut was especially striking.
Set-closer “Freedom of Choice” couldn’t have been more timely a few months from the presidential election, though the band’s latest single, “Don’t Roof Rack Me, Bro (Seamus Unleashed),” dedicated to Mitt Romney’s dog, sadly was missing from the set.
Blondie boldly played even more new material during its closing set, offering five songs from its 2011 album Panic of Girls including “Love Doesn’t Frighten Me” and the Latin-tinged “Wipe Off My Sweat.” Former Playboy Bunny Harry, 67, remains spunky and strong in voice, but the unfamiliar material mixed in with classics “Hanging on the Telephone” and “Call Me” hurt the pacing early in the set. But the band — anchored by original guitarist Chris Stein and drummer Clem Burke — finished strong with a few surprise covers. Blondie tacked some of fellow New Yorker group Beastie Boys’ “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” onto its own groundbreaking “Rapture” and delivered a rendition of Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” (Debbie goes to Hollywood-adjacent?) to its show-closing disco classic “Heart of Glass,” while a giant mirror-ball skull rotated on the video screen.
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
Freedom of Choice
Hanging on the Telephone
Love Doesn’t Frighten Me
What I Heard
Wipe Off My Sweat
Rapture/No Sleep Till Brooklyn
One Way Or Another
Heart of Glass
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