If you happened to be driving along Sherbourne Street in Toronto last night, the spectacle outside the Phoenix Concert Theatre might have caused you to hit the brakes, stop, and stare. The line of people aged 19 to 60-something wearing telescopic red helmets, yellow jump suits, and retro plaid suits was a block long. They weren’t attending a late-night geek convention; they were there to see new wave punks, and legends, Devo, performing in town for the first time in 25 years.
An impressively large space, I have seen my fair share of concerts at the Phoenix Theatre, but never to this capacity. The crowd was visibly and audibly excited, discussing nothing but Devo. Finally things got underway when opener JP Incorporated, a comedic singer-songwriter, stepped on stage. Sporting a wig and fake beard, he performed spoof infomercial tunes for ridiculous products and services including “No Prob Limo,” “Cobras Are Cool,” and “Bowl Noodle Hot,” to the accompaniment of a video slideshow. Initially the crowd was amused, even laughing at some of the gags, but after a while an endless onslaught of lounge music and corny jokes provoked the crowd’s patience. Booing ensued and chants of “Devo” crescendoed.
With JP Incorporated finally off the stage, the air stuffy, and the crowd growing restless, an emphatic cheer resounded as the lights dimmed and the video screen flickered back to life. A brief video of vintage Devo footage introduced the band, who was wearing their patented yellow jumpsuits and 3D glasses. As planned, the band performed their pioneering 1978 album Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo in its entirety. And it was awesome. A spirited Mark Mothersbaugh shuffled about gleefully and, much to the delight of fans up front, jumped into the crowd to sing a few verses from “Praying Hands.” At one point their yellow jumpsuits torn off, while 3D glasses were flung into the crowd, revealing black Devo printed tees. Musically their retro Korg synth tracks were as rich as they once were innovative. Josh Freese’s drumming was tight throughout as was Gerald Casale’s guitar work. Bob “Bob1” Mothersbaugh and Bob “Bob2” Cassale were aggressive yet controlled in their playing. The highlight was “Gates Of Steel,” performed during their quick two-song encore which also included “Smart Patrol / Mr. DNA.” It left fans salivating for more. Considering how many years they waited, it’s likely that many of them returned Tuesday night for round two: a performance of their 1980 opus, Freedom Of Choice.