On Time Travel and Rock Concerts
The weekend of November 19th, I had the unique experience of engaging in time travelâ€”twiceâ€”while on a trip to New York City. Apparently, at times, the auditorium at Irving Plaza ((Well, I suppose it’s now the Fillmore East at Irving Plaza, but nobody calls it that any more.)) serves as a portal to another time, though the same place. In this case, one trip, that of November 19th, took me back to 1978. The next night, I ended up two years later in 1980. What brought these strange phenomena to the fore? What force brought me into that mystic chamber to send me into the distant past, before I was even born, before I was even a speck, before my very concept had even formed in the minds of my parents? Only one force could be so powerful: [DEVO](http://www.clubdevo.com).
In celebration of the long overdue remastering and re-release of their most famous albums, 1978’s _Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are DEVO!_, and 1980’s _Freedom of Choice_, DEVO went on a too-brief tour of two-night stands. Each night featured the full performance of one album, and a brief encore set. Far from just being simple concert performances/museum pieces, they took the opportunity to use these shows as an excuse to relive the past fully, replicating the costumes, stage sets and choreography of the respective album’s tour, though with a dose of modern technology to make the job easier. When combined with tight performing, and a band more enthusiastic than I’ve ever seen them ((My previous DEVO shows are 2004 in Central Park, 2005 in Atlantic City, and 2008 in my home town of Philadelphia.)), it may as well had been time travel to the days when DEVO’s live show was at its peak.
On the first night, the show began with a required viewing of the short film [_In the Beginning Was the End: The Truth About De-Evolution_](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Truth_About_De-Evolution), ending with the video screen rising to show DEVO in their yellow radiation suits and 3-D glasses, bursting into “Uncontrollable Urge”. The stage was covered in black plastic sheeting, and the lighting was suitably low-tech and retro. Dominant colors of orange, yellow, and green bathed the band in sickly shades as they ripped through the album with more ferocity than I’ve seen in most younger bands. Even the crowd was intense: from the first note they pushed forward like a wave. My sternum, pressed against the barrier in front of the stage, came close to snapping from the pressure. By the time the band reached the final song of the record, “Shrivel Up,” the time travel was complete. You can see for yourself.
The next night, the process repeated with the band showing three music videos: “Girl U Want,” “Whip It,” and “Freedom of Choice” before the screen rose for a modernized recreation of DEVO’s 1980 tour set, and the band themselves in gray jumpsuits with red duct tape detailsâ€”and the requisite Energy Domes. Bob 1 even brought out the [once lost custom, blue potato shaped guitar from the 1980 tour](http://boojiboysbasement.com/bobguitar.html). After a brief moment for a man in a doctor’s outfit to indicate the song’s track number, ((This was one of the few new elements to the show.)) the band launched straight into “Girl U Want,” and did not relent. By far, the most amazing part of this show was seeing DEVO perform songs that they’d never performed live. Half the album had never left the studio, including the remarkable “Ton O Luv” which I gained a new appreciation for in concert.
Each night showed a different side of DEVO. Night one showed the punky, raw, dirty DEVO from the post-industrial wasteland of Akron, Ohio, relying on distorted guitar, thudding percussion, and manic energy to drive the music. Night two showed the smooth, futuristic, synthesizer and bass driven DEVO most people know. All of this served as a wonderful appetizer and summary of what makes DEVO great, as they prepare for their first new album in twenty years. ((Supposedly to drop on April 1st, 2010, but that could have been a gag. It is confirmed that DEVO is playing Coachella, which is mid-April, so the album should be out by then.)) From the perspective of a hardcore fan, it’s also a great exercise in revisiting these albums that I’ve listened to so many times. Side two of _Freedom of Choice_ always stuck me as slightly weaker than side one, but not any more. Check out the performance of “Cold War,” which was my least favorite tune on the album until this show.
The entire weekend was something amazing and special: a once in a lifetime experience that I will not soon forget. To watch your favorite band relive their glory days in such a remarkable fashion is something out of a dream. Ten years ago, if I told my adolescent self of what I got to experience, it would meet a look of pure disbelief. I leave you with a few links to photographic evidence of these amazing concerts. Just look for the heavyset guy with the energy dome and goatee: that would be me.
* [My photos on Flickr](http://www.flickr.com/photos/sanspoint/sets/72157623225997780/)
* [Brooklyn Vegan](http://www.brooklynvegan.com/archives/2009/11/devo_played_fre.html)