It had been 30 years since Devo performed in Akron, and it took a cause important to the band to bring the group back home.
Friday night, the band returned to the same venue — the Akron Civic Theatre — where it had performed in 1978. Back then, it was a triumphant homecoming for a band that was about to move to California. Friday night, the reason was a benefit concert for the Summit County Democratic Party, which inadvertently became a celebration of some of Akron's most popular groups, with both the Black Keys and Chrissie Hynde performing.
Before the show, Richard Evans and Jeff Hancock of Pittsburgh, who were enjoying a beer across the street at the Lockview, were excited about the program and the cause.
Evans, 38, a Devo fan club member, said he found out about the show a few days before tickets were available and quickly snapped up a pair.
While the men were excited to see Devo and the Black Keys, they were also interested in the reason for the show.
''The music is the main reason, but I'm also for [Barack] Obama,'' said Evans, a confessed lifelong Democrat.
''I was really undecided until I saw the debate the other night. Obama pretty much blew [McCain] away,'' Han
cock said. ''That made the decision much easier for me.''
Before the show, the crowd mingled at the Civic. In the lobby, concertgoers could purchase special Obama '08 Duty Now for the Future T-shirts and Devo's signature red energy domes, for $20 and $30, respectively, with all proceeds going to the Democratic Party.
The evening's hosts were Summit County Executive Russ Pry and City Council President Marco Sommerville, who between acts stumped not only for Obama but also for seemingly every Democratic candidate in the state. Other dignitaries included U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Niles, and Ohio Treasurer Richard Cordray, the party's candidate for Ohio attorney general.
The show began with local singer-songwriter Chris Allen, who performed a few of his originals and a cover of Bob Dylan's I Shall Be Released. Next, Akron blues rock duo, the Black Keys, who performed a sold-out show last week at E.J. Thomas Hall, played a loud and wild eight-song, half-hour set.
''We don't feel special. We're honored to be here. We're just average Joe Plumbers,'' Black Keys guitarist-singer Dan Auerbach said, mocking John McCain's debate topic.
Another local singer, Rachel Roberts, performed a quick pair of songs. Then Akron's Chrissie Hynde played a quiet set of three new songs from the Pretenders' latest album Break Up the Concrete, which she described as ''being written about Akron.''
Hynde's voice was in fine form, though she did fling a few expletives when she couldn't recall the words to Almost Perfect.
Sommerville and Pry returned to the stage wearing energy domes, with Pry adding the band's yellow Devo lab coat, to introduce Devo.
Devo's Bob and Mark Mothersbaugh, Gerald and Bob Casale and longtime drummer Josh Freese filled out their yellow jump suits more than they did 30 years ago, but they performed a taut, energetic 70-minute set of hits and fan favorites, including Girl U Want and Uncontrollable Urge. Before Whip It, Gerald Casale talked about the ''eight-year nightmare'' of the current administration and asked the crowd, ''Are we gonna whip it on Nov. 4?'' The answer was a resounding yes.
The show ended with all of the night's performers joining in a ramshackle and fun version of the Pretenders' Break Up the Concrete that had the crowd dancing in the aisles.
Malcolm X Abram can be reached at email@example.com or 330-996-3758.