When Devo first obscured the lines between pop music and pop psychology, they did it with a combination of fun and finesse as self-described suburban robots monitoring the reality of the American landscape. Unfortunately they started taking themselves seriously, mistaking their hi-tech approach for insight. Devo's "de-evolutionary" dogma may be arty, but it's also become repetitious and purposeless.
The Akron quintet is blessed with a delightful sense of theater, and that remains its major strength. Sets, lights, costumes, highly stylized movements -- all combine for an effect that is pleasantly weird; not being dangerous or distant (like punk), it's a safe and acceptable formula for fans who want to step just a little outside.
In the last year, Devo has marched onto the dance floor with ditties like "Whip It" and its rehash of the '60s soul classic "Workin' in a Coal Mine." Its performance at the University of Maryland's Ritchie Coliseum seemed geared less to the mind than to the feet and eyes -- bombastic bass and drum dance patterns pushed the conceptual New Wave right over the audience, which seemed to miss (or forgive) much of the redundancy in Devo's evolution toward a sterile, synthetic disco mix. It made for decent theater but disappointing music.