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But, Del Colliano continues, much of the time ego drives artists to endorse and fund-raise for candidates, as if musicians had political wisdom on par with their understanding of the cowbell. “Our entitled world is increasingly self-absorbed. This year we’re seeing the outraged singer. For example, the two gals from Heart, who are mad about the song ‘Barracuda’ being played around Governor Palin’s appearances. [It’s] so self-absorbed — in my editorial judgment. And John Mellencamp’s another guy, who wanted [to stop] “Our Country” [from] being played at McCain rallies. To me the stars are saying, ‘I’m so big, I’m so major, I’m so important that I’m going to stop it from being used.’ The idea that major artists are saying, ‘Don’t use my material,’ shows you how self-absorbed we’ve all gotten.”
As to whether Devo’s going to change anybody’s mind in Akron, Del Colliano has a tip: “Look around and see how many Republicans you find.”
“I don’t think there are many out there,” acknowledges Summit County Democratic chair Jones, surveying the sold-out crowd at the Civic. “But that’s not what this is about. This is about getting attendance up, about stressing to our base to get your neighbors out, get the message out.”
Mothersbaugh is thinking of a different tactic down in the catering room. “We’re not letting anyone out of the building until they sign and turn in their early vote for Obama,” he says, adjusting his cap. He laughs as he declares that the band will change any and all minds with the sheer force of its message: “Every single one of them.”
Turning serious, Mothersbaugh explains Devo’s goal, which has less to do with ego than effort: “For us, I think it’s just bringing an awareness to the election. Sometimes when you go out there, especially in this state, you feel like everybody’s against you if you have an Obama sticker. And I think that maybe this helps remind people that, no, that’s not the case. There could actually be a majority interested in a serious change in the politics of the last eight years.”
At least 2,500 people will be casting for Obama, give or take the few token Republican Devo fans in attendance at the Civic. During the Black Keys’ set, the crowd of people — a mix of young Akron hipsters, aging Devo-tees wearing “Duty Officer” coveralls and red hats, and older Democratic torchbearers — file in and secure their energy domes and limited-edition tees from the merchandisers, sign the volunteer lists and down plastic bottles of Budweiser. Chrissie Hynde performs an acoustic set with a second guitarist.
“These are songs about Akron,” she explains before diving into three tracks from the Pretenders’ new Break Up the Concrete CD. Hynde recently opened a vegan restaurant a few blocks from the Civic, and has long advocated for animal rights.
After she finishes, a few elected Democrats wearing yellow hazmat suits and red domes yuck it up with the crowd as they pitch for various Democratic candidates. Then the big Loews movie screen drops and one of Devo’s great propaganda films appears. The crowd cheers as clips of the band throughout its many incarnations flip on the screen. Images of the band in the early days, marching through abandoned Akron warehouses, of cruising through ragtag streets in junky Chevys, of jerking back and forth to music.
The screen rises and Devo, heavier than in the film but still donning the requisite yellow-and-red getups, tear into “That’s Good,” a song with an honest simplicity that either candidate would be smart to steal: “Everybody it’s a good thing/Everybody wants a good thing/Everybody ain’t it true that/everybody’s looking for the same thing.”
The band rips through its set with the urgency of the fully evolved — “Mongoloid,” “Peek-a-Boo,” “Whip It,” and a thrilling, jubilant “Gates of Steel.”
“The earth it moves too slow,” sings Mothersbaugh, his yellow suit torn away, now standing in a black referee-type outfit with kneepads. “But the earth is all we know/We pay to play the human way/Twist away the gates of steel/A man is real, not made of steel!” Many of these songs, Mothersbaugh tells the crowd, were written five blocks from the Civic Theatre.
The cabdriver who returns me to Akron-Canton Airport is a black man who looks like Cedric the Entertainer — if Cedric had a mustache-less Abe Lincoln beard. He’s all about Ron Paul, “the only one who represents true change in this election,” he says. Yes, the idea of a black president is important to the driver, but, he believes, only Ron Paul seems to understand how to turn the country around and represents true change, which will happen when we as a country concentrate inward and address America on its Main Streets.
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