I was flipping around on my car’s FM dial last week and had the bleeding-from-the-ears misfortune of coming upon Taylor Swift’s staggeringly awful new single. I thought for a moment that I landed on some kind of Disney or Nickelodeon channel, where corporate-oriented bands score those awkward tween TV shows. In reality though, Swift is currently selling the shit out of the thing on iTunes…and leaving me to question my faith in humanity’s hearing.
So I was all the more enthusiastic as I headed to the Warfield on Monday night for the Devo and Blondie double bill. Clearly, I was in need of some kind of authentic audio to counter balance the heavy dose of vapid pop I had stumbled into on the airwaves. And even as their 1979 heyday grows ever more distant, Blondie and Devo delivered in a big way on Monday.
In a Warhol-esque gold lame getup, Debbie Harry exuded all the badass charm that you would expect of her, delivering a great set to a dedicated crowd that delighted in Blondie classics like “Heart of Glass” and “Hanging on the Telephone.” Harry sang “Call Me” with an exquisite edge that seemed to all by itself unravel my modern music frustrations.
Better yet, was the aberrant entity known as Devo, which filled its opening slot with an eruption of live wire punk energy that proved strangely relevant to the age we reside in. It was more punk than anything you’ll find at Warped Tour, more neo-futuristic than Skrillex and his plastic space ship stage at Outside Lands. “What We Do,” “Are We Not Men,” and of course “Whip It” were all showcased as Devo built its sublime dozen song set to an oddball fever pitch, amid pixilated waves of scrolling visuals and numerous costume changes.
All told, I left Sixth and Market to return back to the future with my confidence restored in American music. Swift’s new single isn’t the first time that radio (or MTV or iTunes) has hurled all manner of sonic schlock in our direction. And if that’s true, then Blondie and Devo suggest that the inverse must also be true: that genuine audio eventually rises to the top in the long term, through one avenue or another.
And if it arrives wearing one of those weird red conical hats, then so be it.
All photos by Charles Russo.