It felt like the summer of 1981 last night as Devo and the Tom Tom Club played to a packed, sweaty crowd at the McCarren Pool in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Both New Wave groups are known to the public at large for a single song from the extremely early 1980s (“Whip It” and “Genius Of Love”), but have managed to sustain extremely long careers with devoted fanbases and a catalog of beloved albums. First up was the Tom Tom Club, composed of Chris Franz and Tina Weymouth of the Talking Heads. They played an energetic, well received set consisting of “L’Elephant,” “She’s Dangers” as well as a cover of Hot Chocolate’s “You Sexy Thing.” The crowd didn’t become fully engaged until they busted out their dance classic “Genius Of Love,” which sounded just as good as it did in Stop Making Sense a quarter century ago. They closed with the only Talking Heads moment of the night, a cover of Al Green’s “Take Me To The River.” It brought the house down, but it was hard not to wish David Byrne had driven his bike across the Williamsburg Bridge to sing with his former bandmates.
The sheer amount of red energy domes and “De-Evolution Is Real” t-shirts in the crowd made it quite clear people were there for Devo. Taking the stage in their trademark yellow radiation suits and energy domes, the five-piece band didn’t disappoint. Opening with 1982’s “That’s Good,” the group barreled through the classics from their 1978-1982 heyday with barely a moment of pause between them. Hits like “Whip It” and “Girl U Want” received the exact same rapturous reception as obscurities “Blockhead” and “Smart Patrol/Mr. Dna.” Most of the group has put on a few pounds since their heyday, but their energy levels and playing hasn’t diminished one bit. Guitarist Bob Mothersbaugh, however, looks like he hasn’t aged a day — and his vocals on “Secret Agent Man” and killer guitar work throughout the night made for a real standout performance.
A Devo concert is a carefully choreographed event that rarely veers from the script — and never disappoints its rabid hardcore fanbase. Just like they did in the Central Ohio clubs of the mid 1970s, the five-piece stripped from their radiation suits during “Jocko Homo” while frantically repeating “Are we not men? We are Devo!” During “Mongoloid,” which tells the story of a man with down syndrome who wears a mask and leads a normal life, lead singer Mark Mothersbaugh dance around with pom-poms like a demented cheerleader. It was bizarre, insane, sure to offend some people and absolutely thrilling.
When Devo last played New York, they had to cut the show short after their drummer suffered a massive cut on his hand; this time they skipped the final encore due to the 10:00 PM curfew. This didn’t go over well the fans, who know the Devo ritual has to end with Booji Boy (Mark Mothersbaugh in a big baby mask) singing “Beautiful World.” The announcement the show was done after an amazing version of “Gut Feeling” led to a chorus of shocked boos. After a minute Mothersbaugh ran onstage in a hastily thrown on Booji Boy outfit to tell the crowd “We are all Devo,” before the microphone was literally taken from his hand. It was a huge bummer, and the sight of a dejected Devo fan holding his energy dome while kicking debris and screaming with frustrated rage was quite sad. The group has been telling us society is crumbling around for decades now, so nobody should have been surprised the powers that be wouldn’t let Devo finish.