It's the ultimate Akron-bands concert, and it's a benefit for the Democrats: Devo and the Black Keys will play a rally for the Summit County Democratic Party at the Rubber City's Civic Theatre this Friday, October 17.
"The last couple elections, we were living in California, and you're around all these people that thought Al Gore was going to win," explains Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh from his home in Los Angeles, where he's lived since the band scored a record deal in 1976. "And we were surprised when we realized not everybody in the world felt the same way. And this time, we wanted to see if we could do something to help. And it's not necessary out here in California."
Though the new-wave group is best known for wearing triangular red energy domes in 1980's kitschy "Whip It" video, its political convictions run deep. Devo's core quartet - Mothersbaugh, his brother Bob, co-mastermind Gerald Casale and brother Bob Casale - met at Kent State University in 1970. Later that year, the arty young students were present at the protests that culminated in the National Guard opening fire on students, killing four and wounding nine.
The Obama concert was announced last week and was initially just a Devo show. The Black Keys, Akron's two-man reigning representatives to the rock world, quickly volunteered to open. Drummer Patrick Carney has called Devo "one of my favorite bands ever" and once stalked the Mothersbaugh brothers when the band returned to town for 1997's Lollapalooza. (This Moment in Black History, whose new single is "Obama [The Pres Is You, The Pres Is Me]," was offered an acoustic opening slot, but declined.) All proceeds benefit the Summit County Democratic Party.
A December 2007 Black Keys show at the Civic sold out quickly. Combined, the two groups could probably play at least a four-night stand, but Mothersbaugh and his wife (a St. Louis native who organized the show) have two school-age children back home. Scene caught Mothersbaugh in a rare chatty mood; he gladly discussed the Democratic candidate, the concert, the election's stakes, the band's relationship to its hometown and whether he'll ever have a 330 area code again. - D.X. Ferris
Do you know the Black Keys?
I knew Ralph Carney from the old days. And his [nephew Patrick] is one of the halves of the band. But they're well thought of in the world, and it was a nice treat that they wanted to be added on. I think [frontman Dan Auerbach has] got a great voice. I like the idea of [just] a guitar and a drummer. I like their sound. I've never gotten to see them. This works out great.
What do you hope to accomplish with the show? Do you think you'll be doing more than just energizing the base?
I think there's potential that people will show up for non-political reasons. I, like everybody in the world, have mixed feelings about celebrity endorsements. But this seemed like something where we could go back to our hometown and talk to a very specific group of people. In the last election, some counties were determined by something like nine votes. Ohio isn't a slam-dunk for anybody, for sure. What do you see as the stakes for this election? This could be the most important election during my lifetime. I think deregulation and trusting big business to take care of everybody … it should be very evident that Wall Street and big business - and the Republicans along with that - are concerned about themselves first and people second.
As someone who was part of the politically active generation of the '60s and '70s, do you think this generation is sitting down on the job when comes to making its voice heard?
I think they're suffering from over-inundation of media and the ability of people to use television and radio and magazines and the internet to create as much disinformation as information.
So, that said, is there something else you could be doing besides playing a concert for Ohio Democrats? You're one of the more media-savvy people on the planet; could you be spreading some kind of counter-propaganda?
In my way, I do what I can do. That isn't my profession, and I'm not the best person at it, and I'm not the most articulate person in the world. I can only tell you how I feel and what my observations are. And they cover a big arc, because I'm 58 now.
Are you more about Obama, the Democrat party in general, or both?
I think Obama is a very enigmatic person. I think he's very intelligent. I think he's one of the smartest people running for office. I want someone smarter than me in the White House. We haven't had that for a while. We've had people that any of us could outsmart and people did outsmart.
Do the Kent State shootings loom large in your mind?
I think it helped form us as a band. It formed who we were. We looked around and tried to find a description of what we were observing. And we decided we were watching de-evolution, instead of evolution. And to some extent, it's been borne out over 30 years, where 30 people years ago, people would say, "You're cynical and have a bad attitude." And you say it now, and people cheer. Devo wasn't an overtly political band, but it had messages.
If you do listen to the lyrics, if it's something of content, it's generally [that] we're pro-information and anti-stupidity. We encourage people to use their freedom of choice.
What will your set list be like?
We'll probably stop and talk more than we normally do. We don't normally waste people's time. And I'd say 50 percent of the songs we play will be songs we wrote within a five-mile radius of the Akron Civic Theatre. There's people that like later albums better, but the material we tend to play, we normally cull it from the earlier, more guitar-dominated time period. To me, I like the way it holds up to the test of time better than the later material.
Will the concert be a full production?
It's getting thrown together a little bit, but we'll probably have video. There may be a few surprises.
Do you still consider Ohio part of your life, or is it something from the past, like how most people look at their high school experience?
I think more than a lot of people are with their hometown. I think Devo, around the world, is considered an Akron, Ohio, band. We haven't lived there for a long time. Our formative years were there. We created our big statement as artists in Akron, Ohio. And we went out into the world and saw ourselves as observers from Planet Akron. And I think of us that way.
Do you see yourself possibly coming back one day?
Easily. I like to come back and see green. I miss seasons. I have two kids, and I think Ohio and Akron's a great part of the planet.
Devo and the Black Keys play the Akron Civic Theatre (182 S. Main St.) at 8 p.m. Friday, October 8. Tickets: $25-$150 (VIP tickets include a post-show reception with band members).
GHOST TO COAST
Every Halloween season, Sonya "Psychic Sonya" Horstman leads Haunted Cleveland Tours, taking believers and skeptics around to Northeast Ohio's spots where you're most likely to see some sort of spook. This year, for the first time, the tour will stop at Whiskey Island, off the shores of Lake Erie. Since the days of Native Americans, the lake has been renowned for giving off weird vibes.
"A lot of things have happened on and around the island," says Horstman. "Shipwrecks. The distillery was a sawmill. It's been used as a dump. And it was a ship graveyard. It was a shantytown for Irish workers. There've been suicides - people have thrown themselves off boats. Suicide victims will haunt the shore."
At the island, Horstman goes into further detail about lore, from the alleged Monster of Lake Erie to a pirate ghost that has been reported by night watchmen over the years. Horstman says tourists have taken pictures of the pirate and other ghosts by the water and at the bar of Sunset Grille, which is located at the former sawmill site. For tour info, visit hauntedclevelandtours.com.
KEEP WATCHING THE SKIES
The Cleveland Ufology Project will meet from 7:30- 10 p.m. this Saturday at Tri-C West, on Pleasant Valley Road, in room 208 in the Student Services Center. There is a $3 suggested donation, but a membership will cost you $25 (good for a year!). Recently, the group has been passing out free DVDs titled UFOs, National Security, and You: What's Going On and Why It Matters to new members. So, there's that. For more info, visit clevelandufo.com.
For 50 years, residents of Loveland, a backwoods suburb of Cincinnati, have reported strange sightings of half-men, half-frog creatures that smell of alfalfa and carry batons that emit electrical sparks. We'd write it up as a side effect of moonshining, but one of the witnesses was a cop! To hear the legend of the Loveland Frog, simply buy a townie a beer at Paxton's Grill, the local water hole. Just be sure to take a friend. You don't want to find yourself driving home alone on those back roads at night. That's when they get you. Did ET touch you? We want to know where. Send your O-Files reports to [email protected].