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Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Q: ARE WE NOT MEN? A: WE ARE DEVO! (1978): an unexpected landmark in rock 'n' roll history.

To be fully honest, the spark that lit the fuse of my trip to England was the knowledge that my favorite band on the planet, Akron's mighty Devo, would not only be playing in London in early May, but they'd be playing their first album — 1978's Q: ARE WE NOT MEN? A: WE ARE DEVO! — in its entirety. Well there was no fucking way I was going to miss that since they only do a few of the tracks from that record in concert these days, and England is affordable enough to be doable, especially when being so kindly put up for free by Jewish Warrior Princess (who also provided the tickets as a birthday present; wotta gal!), so it was a done deal from the word "go."

As the date of the concert drew near, JWP opted to give the show a miss — Devo is definitely not her kind of thing, what with her been a self-professed "pop queen" and all, but it was more than enough for her to even consider attending — so she instead give her ticket to Sue, the ultra-cool and fun wife of my friend Tim Pilcher (they live a town over from JWP in Brighton) and I agreed to meet Sue and her friend St. John (pronounced "Sinjun") at a Pub called Annie's that was located a few blocks from the concert venue.

Wednesday soon rolled around and I made my way into London by rail. In no time I was in the London tubeway, and every time I've ventured into it I've been overwhelmed by its vertigo-inducing escalators.

Upon arriving in London's Kentish Town section, I made my way to Annie's and was delighted to discover the street outside the bar was overrun with folks sporting Devo shirts and Energy Domes (those flower pot-like pieces of headgear made iconic during the "Whipit" days).

Before entering the bar I spotted a cutie in a custom purple Energy Dome that she'd been given for her birthday, so I asked her if I could snap her picture.

She not only obliged my request, but also offered to let me wear her custom headgear for a photo.

After that I made my way inside and knew immediately that I was in the midst of people who not only "got" Devo, but also adored them they way I did. As I mingled and chatted among a crowd one would expect to find at a British football match, I feasted my eyes upon a variety of shirts and even tattoos bearing imagery and slogans only a true fan would understand and appreciate, and despite having seen the band numerous times, this was the first time I ever felt like I was really among my people.

Extra points to this guy for rockin' a Booji Boy tat!

This group of Devo hooligans were a bunch of tanked-up sweethearts who showed me even more love once they discovered I'd flown in from Brooklyn for the show.

An old Devo slogan, soon to be re-purposed as the title for an upcoming new song.

The sign-up line for a club-members-only after party that I did not attend. I'm gonna join the fan club as soon as possible so I can get in on this kind of shit!

Remember the climax of ENTER THE DRAGON, when Bruce Lee fights the main villain in a visually-confusing hall of mirrors? That's what I was reminded of when I went to use the men's room at Annie's, and I thanked all the gods that I was neither bombed out of my skull nor high on mushrooms.

British Spuds represent!

Who isn't brother? Who isn't?

If I'd known the show commemorated on this shirt was tkaing place, you can bet your ass I would have gone!

After absorbing all the good vibes and shooting the shit with St. John — a guy who's pretty much on the same page as me musically — I ended up at the Forum and awaited the start of the show and had a wonderful and totally unexpected moment. While observing the incoming crowd, I spotted a petite lady who looked very familiar and almost immediately I recognized her as Lene Lovich, one of my favorite performers during my high school years (Fall 1980-Spring 1983) and the warbly singer of the new wave classics "Lucky Number" and "New Toy."

Lene Lovich, circa 1978.

I walked over to the lady and asked if she was indeed who I thought she was, and she answered in the affirmative, pleased to see a fan from the States gush over her like an idiot. She kindly consented to pose for a couple of pics with Yer Bunche, and that act of sweetness could only be read as a good omen for the rest of the evening.

Yer Bunche meets Lene Lovich.

This shot was snapped by a girl who, judging from her age, may have been one of Miss Lovich's grand-daughters (Lene's a recent sixty). Now all I have to do is meet Nina Hagen and see if I can resist taking her into my arms and passionately kissing her awesome Teutonic self!

Understandably psyched, I made my way to the front row of the balcony and joined Sue and St. John with beers in hand, and gazed down onto what was surely the largest and most rabid crowd I'd ever seen at a Devo show, an enthusiastic crush of humanity that made me glad I was for once not on the floor or in the pit.

The floor as seen from the balcony: a close approximation of a street scene from SOYLENT GREEN.

The lights soon dimmed and the support band, Robots in Disguise, took the stage.

Flanked by two dancers who marched in place while clad in cheesy robot costumes, the two British chick-rockers let fly with some mostly good "electro punk" that set the mood quite well. They were lively and their show utilized the screens set up for Devo's multi-media intro, running goofy videos of themselves engaging in bargain basement sci-fi theatrics,

or footage of robot puppets fucking their brains out in numerous positions.

NOTE: I enjoyed Robots in Disguise enough to buy one of their albums, specifically "Get RID," after the show, and it was to my great dismay that I found out they're one of those bands who rock hard and have energy to spare when seen live, but utterly fail to deliver on an album. The record I bought wasn't even interesting enough for me to work up the energy to describe it as a steaming piece of suckness, so caveat emptor.

The girls of Robots in Disguise rock out with their cocks out. Too bad their album bit the big one...

When Robots in Disguise's set was over it was only about a ten minute wait until the lights once more dimmed and Devo's multi-media extravaganza began, this time opening with their early video of "Secret Agent Man."

"Secret Agent Man": "I got an afternoon pass/I don't get up off my ass!!!"

That chestnut was followed by the famous and disturbing video for "Jocko Homo" and then the men from Akron took the stage, their (mostly) just-under-sixty selves feeding off of the palpable energy of their UK audience.

The Spudboys take the stage and Britain shows its love.

Opening with "Uncontrollable Urge," a tune that rocks in the first place but totally kicks motherfucking ass when performed live, the boys sent out wave after wave of sheer de-evolutionized power that blasted the audience off their asses and onto their feet in a gyrating frenzy.

Gerry and Mark make with "Uncontrollable Urge."

Mark begins the ritual shredding of his jumpsuit.

Mark's plaintive and frustrated take on the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction" was up next and witnessing it brought me straight back to the moment when I first saw Devo, nearly thirty-one years ago on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE, a performance that left my jaw hanging open and made me exclaim out loud, "What the fuck did I just watch?"

Try as he might...

...Mark just can get him no satisfaction.

Frontman Mark was quite obviously having a great time and showed the mutual love by wading into the elated throng of true believers.

"Praying Hands," "Space Junk," "Mongoloid," "Jocko Homo," and the rest of the beloved tracks from that first album kept on coming and the crowd ate it up like a starving man confronted with a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and two large sides of mashed potatoes and gravy.

Nearly sixty and still kicking ass like nobody's business.

Mark makes with the rah-rah during "Mongoloid."

The tragically-underrated guitar-slinging excellence of Bob 1.

Seeing as it was an intentionally short set, the boys wasted little time in stripping down to their black t-shirts and shorts.

When the beautiful and evocative guitar strains of "Gut Feeling" began, the place went wild and I sat transfixed, utterly happy to be in that place at that exact moment in history.

"Come Back Jonee" elicited much the same response from all on hand, and just about everybody joined in on the chanted chorus of "Jonee! Jonee!"

As the album's contents neared an end, the fully-charged crowd and band basked in the sheer mutated joy of it all, reveling in a heartfelt celebration of a strange and wonderful musical concept that was very much ahead of its time.

One of the show's many highlights was Mark completely fucking up the lyrics to "Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin') and just going with it when he realized trying to recover would have been a lost cause, and then there was the classic moment when Bob 1 attempted to strike a "cool" rocker pose with one foot up on a speaker, but instead ended up taking a header and landing flat on his ass, where he continued to play while laying supine and staring up at the ceiling.

Mark Mothersbaugh: rawk gawd.

The prophet of de-evolution once more walks among the faithful.

When they'd exhausted the first album, the boys came back for a pair of excellent and house-rocking encores, namely "Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA" and the classic "Gates of Steel."

But, alas, as all good dates must, the audience with my favorite band was over too soon for my liking, but I can honestly say that this was the finest of the many Devo concerts I've borne witness to. The level of energy from both the band and the crowd, the material from their seminal first album, and the tightness of the performance added up to a classic moment in Devo's history and in the annals of my own concertgoing, and I wish I could have had all my friends who are Devo fans there to share it with me. There was a professional camera team there recording the proceedings, so I hope this show eventually becomes available on DVD for all to see. This one's right up there with the famous 1980 FREEDOM OF CHOICE tour in terms of sheer quality, and considering this show was less than half the length of that "Whipit"-era landmark, that's really saying something.



Jack Ruttan said...

This was awesome, then geeky, then awesome again.

Anonymous said...

Wow! Meeting Lene Lovich at Devo show. I might have exploded!