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7/10/10

"DEVO Made Fun of My Outfit" by DC-in-Detroit

DC is a longtime contributor to the MCB
She can be reached at DC.in.Detroit [at] gmail.com



DEVO
Power Center, Ann Arbor
6 July 2010

The first thing I was going to say about having seen DEVO in 2010 was that I have mixed feelings about reunion tours (or, less generously, nostalgia acts). But being as I've seen the Buzzcocks, the Psychedelic Furs and Public Image Ltd. all just this year, that's obviously not true. I don't have mixed feelings about reunion tours — I frakkin' love 'em.

Now, DEVO (4 of the original 5 members, plus two-weeks-new-to-tour drummer)
EDITOR NOTE: THE TEMP DRUMMER FOR THE DEVO TOUR JEFF FREIDL IS A KICKASS GUY WHO PLAYS FOR EVERYONE - THANKS JEFF FOR BEING A BADASS - editor MCB
wasn't touring this summer just to pay off back taxes; they are actually out in support of their new album "Something for Everybody," their first studio album in 20 years. The new album, which is very DEVO, and current without being too uncomfortably "updated," was already pretty exciting for me. (Selections are available, streaming, at DEVO's site.) But when I saw that they would be playing Michigan the day before my birthday, I knew it was something that was absolutely going to happen. And so, MCB was on the job, sending yours truly to Ann Arbor on a press pass.

100% Cyan is the new red.
I went to high school in Canton. At that time, if you were looking for something to do, you certainly couldn't stay in Canton — more often than not, I went to Ann Arbor, so I'd been to the Power Center bunches of times. It's a bowl-shaped theater, with fixed seats and a balcony, seating just under 1,400. It struck me as kind of an odd choice for a dynamic act like DEVO. On the other hand, DEVO is as much theater as anything else, so why not. The sound at the Power Center had always been excellent, so I knew I'd have that to look forward to.

Even if it meant parking on these seats, which I'm pretty sure predate the invention of chewing gum.
Showtime was at 8pm, and I knew there would be no opening act, so I headed out early. Ann Arbor was every bit as lively as it should have been on a beautifully sunny Tuesday evening, and I got every bit as lost as I always do. I can blame it on the fact that I hadn't actually been to Ann Arbor in years by that time, but I could also blame it on sunspots or some sort of genetic deficiency; one way or another, I'm going to get turned around. It's all part of the DC-in-Detroit (or DC-in-Wherever) experience. I still managed to arrive with plenty of time to spare, so after saying hello to one long-time friend (and I knew there would be plenty of other old-schoolers there), I popped down to will-call for my ticket. This is when I was presented with this awesome surprise.



Could it be? An after-party... with DEVO? I found a Summer Festival volunteer and confirmed: Yes, after the show, please come to this VIP area, and you'll be escorted to a secret location for a meet-and-greet with the band.

Well, spank my birthday bottom, we've got us a full-blown event! Because I am a very professional member of the very professional media, I performed my happy dance deep down inside, where it counts. Then I got my ass up into the auditorium.

I was about 15 rows up, dead center, on the aisle. Given my own choice, I probably would have only been about 5 rows closer — the Power Center's bowl seating means every spot has a pretty good view. As I sat down, I saw something I don't remember ever seeing at a show before: an elderly usher was making her way up and down the aisle with a sandwich bag full of blue foam ear plugs, offering them to all the concert-goers, quite a number of whom took her up on it.

At 8:10, with the house maybe two-thirds full, the lights went down. To a futuristic synth loop, the giant video wall at the back of the stage scrolled through a montage of 30 years of some of the weirdest damn shit ever put to video. Seriously. These guys have made some bizarre videos.

Waiting for the band to come out, I wondered what I've asked myself at dozens of Ann Arbor shows: How long are people going to stay in their seats? An Ann Arbor theater crowd can be almost aggressively polite, and this show was part of the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, which meant many of the attendants had full-series rather than there for this particular show. I wasn't sure how they'd react. And frankly, the idea of sitting through an entire show sounded kind of appealing, considering my knee still wasn't 100% from the Buzzcocks show from a few weeks ago. (Yes, it's come to that in my life. Permanent Buzzcocks soft-tissue injuries.)

When the boys hit the stage – and it's almost impossible to think of them, in their matching Kim Jong-Il-inspired grey worker suits and plastic faces, as anything but "boys" – the crowd erupted, but their asses stayed firmly planted. Hmm. How long can this go on?

The answer is: thirty minutes, or when they play "Whip It," whichever comes first.

There were, of course, a couple of pockets of people who just could not keep still, but it wasn't until (madman and founding member) Jerry Casale introduced "the" DEVO song – "Here it is, 2010, and we're going to Whip It... again!" – that the place got vertical. Okay, people, okay. I understand that this is the song everyone knows and all, but... c'mon, it's not even top-10 best.

After that 30-minute set, they waved to the crowd and trotted off-stage. While I have been to shows where the band delivered quicker than Domino's, I didn't think for a second DEVO was gonna do us like that. And they didn't; moments later, the five returned with fresh (weirdo) uniforms and another 30-minute set.

By then, I was excitedly waiting for IT: you know, the One Song you always hope the band you're seeing is going to play. I had decided what it was on the drive out to the show, and still hadn't heard it. Somehow, I soldiered on, even though they were only giving me my 10 or 15 second choices. Damn, embarrassment of riches. Selections from the new record were shuffled throughout the show, and they played seamlessly with the classics.

Another 30 minutes, another dash offstage, another costume change, and more gleeful, silly nerdness. Which is the heart of the pleasure of DEVO, of course. Ninety minutes (and one incidence of Mark Mothersbaugh ripping paper costumes off of his bandmates) later, I'd gotten "Girl U Want" and "Uncontrollable Urge," but no "Through Being Cool." Ah well, at least Booji Boy, after reminding us that the very first time DEVO played publicly was in Ann Arbor in 1976, finished us off with "Beautiful World," to a backdrop of video of the Deepwater Horizon. Eep.

I am somewhere in this photo.
Final crowd shot after DEVO's encore in Ann Arbor, MI. July 6th, 2010. Photo by Michael Pilmer/Devo Obsesso. Fee free to spread this all over Facebook & Twitter. Contact michael@devo-obsesso.com for permission to use elsewhere.

Once I knew this time they were really not coming back, I rocketed to the VIP area to go check out our meet-n-greet location, really wondering what kind of spread they were going to have for us. Ahh, Power Center. You know how to do it up.


Neeeeeerrrrrds!

I grabbed a bottle of water and waited in the barely-air-conditioned rehearsal space. Looking around the room, most of the folk looked like, well, folk. In other words, it was not a "media event." I spoke with one young woman who told me she had gotten her pass because she bought a package of tickets for the Summer Fest. So the people here were fans and supporters.

After a few minutes of starry-eyed super-fans milling about, a rep got our attention to tell us that the band had agreed to do a few signings and they'd be in shortly. Some tables were moved around so we could form an orderly line. Which, naturally, we did. (Aggressively polite, I'm telling you.) I found myself standing next to a woman who seemed to be on her own. When she noticed I was trying to snap some terrible iPhone pictures, she offered to take my picture with the band. "Oh lord no," I told her, "but I'll take yours if you want!" She pointed to a man laden with some heavy-duty photo equipment. "Actually, that's my friend with the camera over there. He's going to get one of me."


Crappy iPhone pics like this. Deluxe!

I am not usually an autograph-hunter, but this was the only way I was going to meet the band. Besides, I had my ticket stub, which I was already keeping as it had the nearly-my-birthday-date on the front. At the right end of the table, the first person I came face to face with was Jerry Casale. I smiled big and bright, shook his hand, and totally dorked, "The show was so excellent, and of all the days you could have played in Michigan – today was almost perfect, because tomorrow is my birthday." Jerry, like a pro, smiled, thanked me, and signed my ticket – Jerry of DEVO – including "Happy birthday." Awww! Next to him were Bob Casale, aka Bob2, then their new touring drummer, Jeff Friedl. And man, was Friedl a sweetie. He asked me how I was, how I liked the show... I said, "It was a great show. They were all great shows." Bob2 chimed in, "Oh, you saw all of them, huh?" "Yeah," I said, "I've seen three shows tonight, and they were all you guys!"

I moved on to Bob Mothersbaugh, aka Bob1, by now a bit giddy. (Me, not Bob1.) I said, "I was really happy to see you guys tonight, because it's my birthday." Just before he signed my ticket, he stopped, looked up at me very seriously, brow furrowed, and said, "Is your birthday today...? Or is it tomorrow?" Oops, I guess he heard my schtick already. "Well, technically, my birthday is tomorrow, but today is my birthday...in here," I goofballed, making the universal sign for crazy-in-the-head. He chuckled, signed, and shoved my ticket over to the last man at the table, Mark Mothersbaugh.

Now, that end of the table was about the busiest spot in the room. For most, if they can name one person in the band, Mothersbaugh is the one. There were many pictures being taken down there, including a few of the cutest little power-domed 8 year old girl with a hand-made poster. I always say, nerd 'em young and you'll never be disappointed. When things cleared enough for Mark to look my way, before I could even say anything, he gave me the once-over – taking in my blue and black horizontal-striped shirt and white-on-black polka dot capris – and said, "Stripes and polka dots..." pause, cocked eyebrow "How... nice." I grinned and, while he was busy signing my ticket, I said, "The 100% cyan was just for this show. I hear it tests well." And after he'd signed, he looked back up at me, and I shook his hand... and this crazy thing happened. Mothersbaugh doesn't... make a lot of eye contact. But when I had his hand and he looked me in the eye, I think time stopped. I swear I was standing there shaking his hand for about 20 minutes, stuck in a rather out-of-character fangirl mode. I've said it once or twice before, but some people have a charisma that is almost a palpable thing, even when they are clearly uncomfortable with it.

I scooted out of the building, and as I was standing outside trying to reorient myself (yeah, good luck with that) and remember where I parked, the woman who had been in line with me came up behind me. "We got a picture of you anyway," she said with a big smile. "I can email it if you want!"

"I'd love that, actually," I said, "even though I'm sure it's me looking like a complete deer in the headlights, making Mark Mothersbaugh uncomfortable."

You'll notice that that photo isn't included in this story. It's bad enough I'm telling you this, you really wanna see it, too?

When I've told this story to a couple of friends, more than one has excitedly asked, "Ooh, was it after midnight when you met them?" Sadly, no. Because it was an early show, it was still only about 10pm when I had my moment. But you know your dorkdom has reached full-flower when nothing would make you happier on/for your birthday than being made fun of by DEVO.


You have gotta love a band that is so egoless they sign things like "Jerry of DEVO," "Bob1/Bob2" or just simply "Mark."

PS
Fret not, my faithful friends. By the time midnight did roll around, your humble narrator was somewhere warm, happy and well-appreciated.