“Devo: Live in the Land of the Rising Sun”: Akron’s spudboys at Japan’s Summer Sonic 2003

By on June 20, 2019

In early August 2003, Devo traveled to the Land of the Rising Sun to play for a sweat-drenched crowd of Japanese Devo-tees at the Makuhari Messe convention center, located in the Mihama-ku ward of Chiba, about twenty-five miles southeast of Toyko, Japan.

Devo: Live in the Land of the Rising Sun is now streaming on Night Flight Plus.

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Devo — Mark, Gerry, Bob 1 and Bob 2 — had not played any concerts in Japan since 1981.

This particular event — for the two-day “Summer Sonic Festival” featuring fifty bands, including Blondie, Cheap Trick, Radiohead, the Strokes and many more — was quite the cause for celebration for thousands of their Japanese fans, many of whom likely weren’t even alive twenty-two years earlier when Akron’s spudboys had last graced a concert stage in their country.

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Here, you can see Devo performing a baker’s dozen of their best-known songs during the 75-minute set:

“That’s Good,” “Girl U Want,” “Whip It,” “Satisfaction,” “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Mongoloid,” “Blockhead,” “Jocko Homo,” “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA,” “Gut Feeling/Slap Yer Mammy,” “Gates of Steel,” “Freedom of Choice,” and “Come Back Jonee.”

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Most of the setlist was derived from Devo’s 1978 debut studio album, Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!, and their third studio album, 1980’s Freedom of Choice, with “Blockhead” and “Smart Patrol/Mr. DNA” being the only two songs from Devo’s second studio album.

“That’s Good” — the first song they played — was the only song they would play on this day written after 1980.

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The band take the stage after the filmed performance by “General Boy” — the Devo character usually portrayed by the late Robert Mothersbaugh, Sr., Mark and Bob’s dad, who died in 2016 — telling the crowd what Devo is all about (they likely already knew).

We also see a montage of video clips and excerpts from their film Devo: The Complete Truth About De-Evolution (you can see it on Night Flight Plus).

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During the concert, Gerry Casale engages the huge crowd of energy-domed Japanese Gen-X kids in a call & response from the stage, asking them “”Boku-tachi-wa-ningen-desuka!?!?” (“Are we not men?”).

Their reply comes back loudly, in English, “We are DEVO!!”

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If you purchase a copy of the DVD — available from Sick Video, distributed by MVD — you’ll be treated to lots of bonus material, including a 12-minute documentary Devo Goes to Japan, which features their fun shopping trip in Tokyo (buying Osama bin Laden masks and chest hair shirts).

There are also interviews with Mark and Gerry, the latter talking about a crazy night he spent with a Japanese groupie back in the ’80s.

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There’s also a five-and-a-half minute interview with ex-Sparks & Gleaming Spires drummer David Kendrick (David Kendrick Speaks), who unofficially played with the band for the first time in 1987.

Kendrick talks about how he remained involved with various members of Devo after they went back on hiatus, and how he became their regular studio drummer in the late ’90s and early 2000s — often joining Devo for live concerts, circa 2002-2004 — when regular tour drummer Josh Freese (ex-Vandals) wasn’t available.

There’s also a rare 1980 TV performance of “Gut Feeling/Slap Yer Mammy” (courtesy of Target Video) and commentary from the Devo-influenced Japanese band Polysics (you can read more about them below).

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One of Devo’s biggest influences on Japanese pop culture can be seen on a hugely popular “technicolor pogo punk” band Polysics (Japanese: ポリシックス).

They were formed in Tokyo more than twenty years ago, back in 1997, when high-school student Hiroyuki Hayashi (guitar/voice/programming) first hooked up with drummer Junichi Sugai, lead singer/synth bassist Sako and Kayo (synths/vocoder).

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Taking their name from the Korg Polysix synthesizer, the synth-punk/pop no wave outfit — described by the All Music Guide’s Jason Lymangrover as a “violently energetic amalgam of fractured punk rock and vintage video game sound effects” — are obviously heavily inspired by Devo.

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In fact, when asked for his influences in interviews, frontman Hiroyuki Hayashi has usually said, “only Devo,” although it’s clear some of their other influences have included the Tubes, Brian Eno, Neu!, Kraftwerk and Japanese bands like P-Mode too.

However, Devo is their most obvious influence, as you can see in their comically-exaggerated version of the Akron band’s stage clothing — the orange bio-hazard jumpsuits and new wave-styled straight-bar eyewear — as well as their spastic live concert shows.

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Polysics released their first Japanese record 1st P in 1999, tracks from which showed up on their first U.S. release, Hey! Bob! My Friend!, which was actually compiled from songs from their first two Japanese albums. Every Polysics album carries a thank-you to Devo.

After the departure of lead vocalist synth-bassist Sako, the band’s overall sound began to morph into a more no-wave sounding, guitar-based caterwaul, which they’ve maintained ever since, and their bassist Fumi joined the band in time to participate in the sessions for their album Eno, released in July of 2000.

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More changes in the band’s lineup came in 2001 with the departure of drummer Junichi Sugai, who was temporarily replaced by Ishimaru (ex-Snail Ramp) and finally Yano, just prior to the band’s first major U.S. tour.

At the time of Devo’s Japanese concert at the Makuhari Messe convention center on August 2, 2003, Polysics were promoting songs from their new album Neu, released in the U.S. on Asian Man Records to rave reviews and great sales figures, and National P, as well as an American-released DVD PippikkippippiP in USA.

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Read more about Polysics here.

Watch Devo: Live in the Land of the Rising Sun and other Devo titles on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.