“I’ll be honest. We were asked to do this,” admits Gerald Casale, bassist/vocalist for legendary new wave popsters Devo.
He’s referring to the band’s current tour that finds the Ohio-based quartet (completed by guitarists Bob Mothersbaugh and Bob Casale, keyboardist Mark Mothersbaugh and drummer Josh Freese) performing two consecutive nights in each town. The first evening is a live replication of their debut 1978 album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! (commonly truncated to Are We Not Men), while the second finds them switching over to 1980 breakthrough Freedom Of Choice.
Casale points out that while the tour coincides with deluxe re-releases of the same efforts and precurses their forthcoming as-yet untitled (details are few yet rumours abound about the moniker Fresh) ninth studio album, the demand to perform albums in their entirety actually came from fans.
“There were people in London (England) that wanted us to recreate Are We Not Men. They loved it because it was arcane. It took them back to a time when it mattered how you sequenced your record and people sat down to figure out why you did what you did. It went so well that by the time we got back home, we were already getting pressured to do the same here.”
Happily agreeing, the band found themselves faced with a dilemma: which album to do. Genuine North American Devo-tees prefer hearing Are We Not Men, yet it wasn’t until Freedom Of Choice — featuring hits such as Whip It and Girl U Want coupled with their iconic flower pot hats and hazmat suits — that the band found commercial success on home turf. After a minor epiphany to perform both, a new hurdle arose though. The albums barely clock in at over a half-hour each, nowhere near long enough for a full show.
“Most people remember the poppy Devo but true fans recall the hardcore art statement Devo of Are We Not Men. We were bickering over which one to do and I innocently said, ‘Why don’t we do both?’ Then, we had to re-learn a lot of songs and add in some factors to make the concept work,” Casale admits, adding that the tour is more of a Devo “experience” than a simple concert.
“First we show the video elements we made at that time as a prelude. Then, after the record is performed, we play songs that have nothing to do with that album. Extra songs, as it were.”
Given the supportive reviews from fans and critics alike, it works in all its ephemeral, nostalgic glory. To that, Casale comments that patrons don’t feel short-changed by less than an hour of actual face time ... as it were.
“This is the opposite of most concerts. For a lot of people, it’s like going to church,” he chuckles. “They’re there for the ritual. They know every song and when we’re going to play it. They’d get mad if we tried to switch it up. ‘Hey! That’s not the next song!’ Imagine if a priest or rabbi started screwing around with the canon. Can you imagine how much trouble that would cause?”
Devo plays the
• Toronto: Phoenix Concert Theatre tonight and tomorrow.
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