Early in Devo’s headling set at the Denver County Fair Saturday night, as the band ramped up its head-bopping new wave hit “That’s Good!” in front of intentionally choppy, vivid and ironic video montages that punctuated the entire show, it was hard not to wonder whether Martha Stewart fancies herself a Devo fan.
At first the bridge between art rock icons and America’s home and garden media queen may seem tenuous, even if Martha Stewart has famously labeled any idea that shapes her well-preened world “a good thing.” But at this new take on the country fair, one in which urban style goes hand-in-hand with advanced homemaking skills, that link may not be so far-fetched.
Still, to get into this show, concertgoers had to set aside some preconceived notions about what a live music experience should be. The venue was nothing short of bizarre. A dark, hot arena in the belly of the National Western Complex, with old green wooden bleacher seats and folding chairs strapped together on the concrete floor. And wait, did we pass a sign on the way in that read “Beef Palace”?
But humor helped get the Denver County Fair off the ground, making Devo seemingly ideal for this occasion. Their brand of electronic rock is dated compared to contemporary pop radio, but that was never really what Devo and its fans were aiming for. So here they are more than three decades after their first album, still doing those goofy robotic choreography sequences and wearing military-meets-sci-fi-grease-monkey costumes. And it all feels somewhat current, given the recent cultural infatuation with ’80s music and style.
Color blocking, video game sequences, ironic documentary-style clips and sci-fi street sequences flickering on the screen behind the band helped move this show away from looky-loos standing and gawking, as though Devo were just another act from the County Fair “Freak Show,” and toward a retro dance party that felt just a little bit like a weirdo family reunion. The crowd, though far from capacity, belted out the lyrics to such seminal hits as “Whip It!” and “Girl U Want,” everyone relishing the camp of this concert and the ambitious Denver County Fair.
Elana Ashanti Jefferson is an editor at The Denver Post and a longtime music fan.