It all started with a copy of the Village Voice.
I was 19 years old. A sophomore at Bucknell University. A brother at Theta Chi. My fellow brothers had re-shaped my musical world my freshman year. After years of AC/DC, Judas Priest, and the Scorpions, plus a little bit of Pink Floyd and Zeppelin, I had been turned on to David Bowie and then Elvis Costello and Talking Heads, plus some new bands like U2 and the Psychedelic Furs.
In high school, I'd seen Devo do Whip It! on SNL. Didn't we all watch SNL then?
But, until college, they were nothing more than weird guys with flowerpots on their heads. But, listening to entire albums at school, I became a huge fan. When they released New Tradionalists, it was on the turntable pretty much non-stop.
So, in September or maybe early October of 1981, through the Village Voice, we heard that Devo was going to play Radio City Music Hall on Halloween. I forget how we got tickets, but it certainly didn't involve the internet. Somehow, we got tickets to the second of 2 shows that night, and we were in very last row of Radio City Music Hall.
We had a party at the fraternity on a Saturday night, right after we'd scored the tickets. Three of us were so excited about the show that we spent the entire night at the party bothering people. We would walk up to a group of people, with our backs facing them. Then, we'd spin in tandem and say the words "October 31st. Radio City Music Hall. Devo. Be There!". And we'd walk away. I'm sure we were really annoying, but we were so excited about the show.
The Friday before the show, I headed to NJ with my buddy Jeff. We went to his house and then headed across the NY state line, where the drinking age was 18. Of course, we went to a bar. I have to assume we were drinking Schaefer beer. I do remember that it cost us 35 cents per glass. I'm sure I had too many.
On Saturday, we headed to NYC. Four of us met at a bar called The Blarney Stone. There were a few places in NYC by that name, and I assume they were connected. I think we were in the Hell's Kitchen area, on West 47th, which would have put us close to RCMH.
I was then (and still am today) a big college football fan. My team, Penn State, was ranked number 1 that day and playing at Miami, who was not yet a national power. Penn State's Curt Warner, who was averaging 168 yards per game, had been injured and missed the previous week's win against West Virginia. He started against Miami, but re-injured his hamstring, and Miami went on to upset Penn State 17-14. I remember so vividly watching the game at the Blarney Stone, and seeing Warner carrying the ball, and then, mid-play, he reached back and grabbed his hamstring. That win for Miami propelled them to a new level and they've been a national power ever since.
After the game, we wandered around town for a while. I remember we stopped at one bar that charged us $8 for a pitcher of nasty beer. Their tap lines were filthy, the beer was expensive and undrinkable, and they refused to give us a refund. One of our group, a guy named Eric, was still yelling at them as we left the place.
At some point, we were in Times Square, which was a much different place in those days. And about 11:00 or so, we headed to Radio City Music Hall for Devo's second show of the night. It was a fantastic show, a mix of their older songs and the new material from New Traditionalists, plus their cover of Working in a Coal Mine, which was part of the soundtrack to the movie Heavy Metal. Here is the set list:
To be honest, there is only one set list online, and there were 2 shows. I don't know if they played identical sets or not, so this might not be exactly what we saw. At the very least, it is close.
That was my first visit ever to NYC, and despite our college-age appetites for beer, it's a day I still remember very well.
I haven't seen Devo since that night.
My next trip to NYC was on another holiday - St. Patrick's day in 1982. That night, we went to the Ritz, which is now long gone (the original venue has returned to its old name of Webster Hall), with pretty much the same group of guys, and we saw a young band from Ireland who had just released their second album, October. Even though October remains perhaps U2's least known and least successful album, I've always been a fan of that release. Years later, when I saw U2 in a stadium with over 50,000 people, I remembered fondly seeing them in a venue that held only 1400 or so.
October 31st. Radio City Music Hall. Devo. Be There!