On the busy and bustling corner of Belmont and Sheffield lies the quaint, old pile of bricks that make up the famous Vic Theater. With its Miller Genuine Draft sign covering the marquee and displaying right above this nifty advertisement, “WXRT presents Devo! Are We Not Men?” the Vic seemed to light up like a gigantic pinball machine on a moderately cold Thursday night. The Akron, Ohio art-rock legends descended upon the Windy City for two nights of kitschy, post-punk mayhem. For Night One however, Devo went in favor of performing its debut record, the classic Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! in its entirety, as well as a few other surprises.
After standing in line and chatting it up with fellow Midwesterners, the doors opened for everyone to beckon. The theater came alive with the likes of fans of the band wearing the band’s classic Energy Dome hats and yellow radiation suits. Flocks of age groups flooded the ground floor of the Vic, ranging from twenty-something businessmen to people who could easily have been my parents. Maneuverability quickly became a dead issue; even the waitresses had to fight through this sea of raging people. Regardless after what seemed an eternity in the bellows of the Vic, amidst those getting quite sauced on said Miller Genuine Draft, comedian/musician JP Incorporated opened the show. At first, it seemed quite off kilter, but given the deadpan humor prevalent in the music of Devo, JP Inc. fit in right at home with the Chicago crowd.
Dressed in his cheap blue suit and donning a gray hair/beard combination that could make Michael McDonald proud, JP baited the crowd with a singalong parody commercial of “Jazzbot Xtreme.” Complete with tenor saxophones masquerading as diesel pumps on a sick monster truck, the video presentation for JP Inc’s parody tune sent the Vic Theater into a state of hilarity. This continued onward for other commercial parodies as well, which included “No Prob Limo” (about how you can’t afford limousines, but do it for anything anyway), “L.A. Nights 2” (it’s hotter because its number two!) and my personal favorite “Crap Factory” (a five piece rock band on the “cutting edge” and are virtually “unpredictable”). JP Inc. worked his magic and thanked the crowd for their enthusiastic chants and jeers. For a guy that seemed virtually unheard of, at least on my end, his showmanship was well-earned and definitely broke the ice for what was to become a truly spectacular show.
After a lengthy 20 minutes or so, the house lights went out as some of Devo’s other music played before a broken video projector. Their hilarious and warbled version of “Secret Agent Man” played over the house PA during the broadcast of the corrupted video. Save for the sake of time, the Vic experienced some severe technical difficulties. As a result, the show was delayed roughly twenty minutes longer than expected. Some idiots in the crowd (heh, probably the MGD sauced ones too) began booing and shouting unnecessary obscenities for no reason at all. Hey, I’m not for technical difficulties myself, but am I willing to risk a good time and yell like a prick for absolutely no reason? No, and those people needed to shut the hell up.
Fortunately, the Vic decided to trash the projector and go on with the show. With that action taken, the Akron quintet, donned in their trademark yellow radiation suits, stormed the stage. Lead vocalist Mark Mothersbaugh riled the crowd up with his microphone in hand and his trademark salute. Following behind were drummer Josh Freese’s thunderous drums, Bob Casale & Bob Mothersbaugh’s twangy guitars and Gerald Casale’s great bass all charged up into one sonic punch to the mouth with the classic opener “Uncontrollable Urge.” Talk about waiting a lifetime to see these guys perform! For a bunch of guys in their mid to late 50’s, there’s no argument here they can still shake it and wail. Mark Mothersbaugh’s vocals howled to the moon with that remarkable tinge of sarcasm and snarl. They just knew how to hit people right in the gut and could possibly do no wrong whatsoever.
Following “Urge” came bassist Gerald Casale’s welcoming to the Chicago crowd. He quipped to the audience, “You Spuds all look great in 3-D!” to which they entered into their quirky and awesome take on the Rolling Stones’ signature “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.” Freese’s drums shined throughout and Casales’ bass rumbled like a beast. Harmonically the band sounded better than their 1978 selves and proved to be a force to be reckoned with. Off-tempo signatures, quirky guitar solos, ripping of the radiation suits and the frenzied progression of lead singer Mothersbaugh’s hair throughout their set were spectacles of greatness to behold. For these Akron natives, life certainly began at the top and only three songs into their set, they showed no signs of slowing down. Storming through fan favorites “Praying Hands” (complete with Mothersbaugh leaping into the audience), “Space Junk”, and a killer version of “Jocko Homo”, Devo performed arguably its best tune, as well as my personal favorite in “Too Much Paranoia”. As mentioned before these guys can stick and move and on “Paranoia” they literally tore the floorboards up on the stage. Both Mothersbaugh brothers took turns tearing up their guitars and Mark in question performed one of the best, if not unorthodox, guitar solos I’ve ever seen live. Basically mimicking the sounds of a dilapidated car engine, you just had to be there to hear its brilliance.
However, the best still yet to be seen as Devo gave the Vic a mega dose of punk rock in the beautifully tinged “Gut Feeling”. With the tempo gaining faster and faster momentum, Devo exploded into a frenzy with “(Slap You Mammy)” and the crowd went nuts. A rather large mosh pit broke out on the main floor and everyone got caught in it. It was truly a spectacle to behold. After the final tune, a ballsy rendition of “Shrivel Up,” the Akron art-rock sensations bid farewell to the Vic, but only for a moment as chants of “Devo! Devo!” filled the acrid auditorium. Louder they chanted and Devo stormed the stage once more for a fiery encore of “Smart Patrol.” Lead guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh laid down one of the sickest leads I’ve borne witness to at a concert; thick, creamy, ballsy and just perfect…Bob killed it with his guitar. With the final notes of “Patrol” ringing in the Vic’s dark belly, Devo came back with the punk/metal blueprints “Mr. DNA”. You talk about heavy shit, Devo buried it. Complete with another Bob Mothersbaugh solo in which he bent his tremolo arm back so far all six strings snapped right in half. Oh and it helped there was some lucky guy that got onstage and crowd surfed too. I don’t even need to say this anymore. Devo owned and truly threw their stake through the heart with an incredible heavy rendition of “Gates Of Steel.”
With the final curtain call, Mark Mothersbaugh bid farewell and love to the Chicago audience and the band departed stage right. The aura lingered in the air for a few moments shortly afterward. Was all this real? Did we all just witness perfect greatness? How fucking heavy was this show? These questions rattled my brain as I left. The Vic is a strange and elegant place without a doubt, but tonight’s show, Devo’s full-length debut record live, is a total show for the books. Not only will this go down as one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen, I think everyone any anyone who witnessed tonight’s performance can attest to my beliefs as well. The Vic certainly felt like a pinball machine and Devo kept those pinballs flying all around the table, complete with a little Midwestern art for the masses to consume. The question is, was the $41 worth it? Are you nuts? We are Devo!
JP Incorporated Setlist:
Lieutenant Custard & His Banger Of Time
No Prob Limo
L.A. Nights 2
Common Scents Aerosol Spray
White Cargo Van
Bowl Noodle Hot
(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction
Too Much Paranoia
(Slap Your Mammy)
Come Back Jonee
Sloppy (I Saw My Baby Gettin’)
Gates Of Steel