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Live at SUMMERSONIC 2003 - August 2 & 3 - JAPAN
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Devo’s trip to Japan in August 2003 was the treat of a lifetime for thousands of Japanese fans. The band hadn't played there since 1981, so as you can imagine they were extremely well received. Droves of fans in vintage and homemade Devo gear showed up (in addition to countless media personnel) to witness the Spudboys in action. My faithful sidekick Tony Sophie and I tagged along for the historic journey to document it on video. Neither of us had ever been to Japan before, and we were going there with the greatest band of all time, so it was an epic voyage to say the least.

The trip started with our arrival at the Capitol Tokyo Hotel. Tony and I flew in on a different plane than the band, so we were to meet them there. The lobby was filled with groupies and fans waiting to collect autographs and meet their favorite American rock stars. We quickly learned that the hotel is famous for being *the* place for rock stars in Tokyo. Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones and The Beatles were a few names I heard tossed around when people told stories of the hotel’s history. So the fans all knew where to go to meet their rock gods. The event at which Devo was scheduled to play was called "Summer Sonic," a huge, two-day concert festival with over 50 bands on the bill. Most of the bands, and their respective crews and families, were staying at the Capitol Tokyo. So when Tony and I walked in carrying our gear boxes emblazoned with big D-E-V-O stencils, we were immediately approached by a Japanese man who introduced himself as Takeshi. He asked us where Devo was and said that he had been waiting there since 2pm to meet them and get their autographs (it was then about 7:00 or 7:30.) After settling into our room, Tony and I went back downstairs and saw Takeshi again. He said that the band had arrived and that he had gotten some autographs, but he still needed Bob2's and Jerry's. We asked him if he could recommend a good place to eat, and he ended up taking us out and showing us around the nearby area of Akasaka. On our way back to the hotel, we had to walk up a huge set of stairs about a block long.

At the bottom, Takeshi got a call on his cell. His friend was still waiting for autographs and called to tell him that Jerry was in the lobby. We’d never seen anyone run so fast! And up a block of steep stairs! He yelled out something like "Gotta go! Meet you there!" and took off up those stairs like Speed Racer, while Tony and I were huffing and puffing just from walking! When we got to the lobby Jerry was saying that he basically got completely ditched by the promotion people who were supposed to be taking care of the band. He was frazzled from the flight and hadn’t eaten, so he wasn’t too happy about being left in the dark. The next morning Tony and I were up bright and early at about 5:30 because of the "reverse jet lag" effect of going 16 hours ahead. We went down to the lobby at about 7:00 and just caught Mark and his fiancé Anita, Bob 1 and daughters Alex and Ursula, Bob2 and drummer David as they were leaving to go shopping. We decided to let Jerry get some sleep and that we’d tag along. Mark said he knew of an interesting store called Tokyo Hands that we were sure to love. He said it would be an easy subway trip to the district of Shibuya, so we followed him as he directed us into the station. At first we were all very confused by the Japanese subway station, but Mark seemed fairly sure that he knew the way, so we followed him through the maze of tile tunnels. Eventually we found our train and made it to Shibuya, but then things weren’t quite as easy as Mark had remembered. The intersection at the train station was a huge six-way crossing with tall buildings all around, five of which had giant TV’s on them displaying weird Japanese commercials. The whole side of one of the buildings was actually a huge TV screen. There were windows, and presumably people inside could see out, but on the outside the whole surface of the multi-story structure was a full-color, moving picture advertisement in Japanese, complete with blaring audio. We walked in the general direction of Tokyo Hands, and after Mark got directions it wasn’t too hard to find. Once inside the store, we saw amazing products that for Westerners almost defy description. There was a whole section of ridiculous costumes, like men’s underwear in the shape on an elephant’s head with a "working" trunk, or very "adult" looking monkey costumes, for people who are into that sort of thing. Mark’s mission was to buy pens, and he bought at least 100 of them. He said he goes through them so quickly that those would only last him about 6 months. Bob2 found a lighter in the shape of a pig with a hat that looks mysteriously like an energy dome. After shopping for a while in the eight-story mega-store, Tony and I lost track of the rest of the group and headed back to the hotel. We met up with Jerry there, and we all went out to lunch. The hotel recommended a nearby sushi restaurant, so we checked it out. When we got there, not only was there no English anywhere to be seen, but unlike other restaurants we'd seen there were no pictures or plastic representations of the food. All we had to go on was a menu with nothing but Japanese characters and a few numbers. We assumed the numbers were prices, but prices for what? The staff was completely unable to help. Noticing our dismay, a nearby patron stood up and offered to translate the menu for us. He explained that each price was a different plate, and you just order according to how hungry you are and how much you want to spend. You don’t get to pick what’s on the plate, just the amount. The chef just gives you whatever’s fresh that day. The most expensive plate was $15, so we all decided to go with that. What they brought was a very large plate, by the standards of American sushi restaurants. Most of it was familiar, but there were a few weird things, like a pile of raw baby eels, each one about 2" long and whole, with the head and everything. At first I thought they were bean sprouts or maybe noodles, because they had a kind of milky transparency. But then when I looked up close I saw that they all had little black eyes. Jerry slurped his down and said something like, "Mmmm! Those are delicious!" So being adventurous souls, Tony and I decided to give them a try. Bad move. They tasted and felt just like what you’d expect from raw, whole baby eels. I ate a bite of mine, got the idea, and respectfully declined a second taste, but Tony’s face literally turned purple and he said he came close to losing the rest of his lunch. There was also an urchin on the plate that looked like a combination between baby poop and snot. Jerry ate his and said that it was "grade B" urchin. Tony and I were so disturbed after the eel episode that we had to cover our urchin with a leaf that was garnishing the plate just to not hurl from seeing it. Jerry said, "You guys aren’t going to eat those?" and he gobbled down our eels and urchin with enthusiasm. The rest of the "edible" food on the plate was enough to fill us up, so overall it was a very interesting and satisfying lunch.

Back at the hotel, Takeshi was still hanging around, hoping to meet Cheap Trick and Blondie. Devo had to go to the venue and do a sound check later that evening, and we were planning to meet them back at the lobby and go along, but in the meantime Takeshi offered to take us shopping. I said I wanted to look for CD’s and videos, and he said, "You like bootleg videos?" I knew right then that we were in for an adventure. The store he took us to was in the Shinjuku district of Tokyo. It was called Airs, I believe, and from the outside, it looked like a small, hole-in-the-wall type place. But inside were two stories of nothing but shelves upon shelves of bootleg concert videos, all with full-color, homemade sleeves, most with Japanese writing on them. For almost any band you can think of, there was a whole shelf full of the hugest collection of rare videos I’d ever seen, and the place was filled with VCR’s and TV’s so you could check them out. We spent so long shopping, and the traffic was so bad, that we completely missed the sound check, but it was just as well, because it sounded like the band was hassling with the rented gear they were using, so we were glad we stayed out of the way.

The next day was the big gig in Tokyo. Tony and I had made it a priority to get to the show early to see our favorite Japanese band, Polysics, who were scheduled to go on at 11:30. Devo’s bus was leaving the hotel at 2:30, so we had to figure our own way to the venue. When we got there, we found the Polysics vending booth and introduced ourselves. The vendors couldn’t speak much English, but they could understand that we were with Devo, doing video. They got very excited and started to hand us Polysics T-shirts and other cool trinkets. We whipped out our yen, but they refused payment, saying "Gift! Gift!" They gave us a total of 8 shirts, plus Polysics towels, plastics bags, canvas bags, pinback buttons and two cool photo books. We told them we wanted to meet the band and the manager quickly emerged from a nearby door. He took us into the dressing room, where the band was getting ready to go on. We did an impromptu interview with the three core members, using an interpreter because they don’t speak any English. During the short Q&A session (as well as their set) they all wore "Duty now for the future" style visors and devo-esque black jump suits, while Hiro, the singer, held an energy dome in his hand. One of the questions was "Who are your influences?" to which Hiro answered, "Devo. Just Devo." At the end, he added that he wanted to play music with the same kind of "attitude" and "impact" as Devo, and even though their music was different "the spirit is still DEVO." Then the band ushered us along with them through the backstage door into the darkened venue. We quickly assumed our positions with video gear in hand as the crowd waited for the set to begin. At first, it was difficult to tell just how large the place was. In fact, the crowd was so quiet that it seemed like there was hardly anyone even there. As we stood in the photo area, in front of the front row, Tony and I were amazed at how orderly and quiet the Japanese people were before the show. We tried to rile them up with chants of PO-LY-SICS! PO-LY-SICS! but they'd only chant along for a few seconds and then go silent again. But then when the lights for the band came on and the intro music started to play, that crowd started to scream like mad! Tony and I turned around, and what had seemed like a half-empty, nightclub-sized hall turned into a huge arena filled with a screaming horde of fans, several thousand thick, each with a big smile, giving their undivided attention to the stage. Every single person in the room, except Tony and myself and maybe one of the bouncers, was Japanese. Hiro screamed something, and I could make out the words "summer sonic" and "Polysics". They played the most energetically charged, amazing, heavy, weird, cool set I’ve seen since.... well, Devo themselves! The crowd was so into it, we were amazed. They would all scream and dance when it was appropriate, but as soon as Hiro said anything, he could have been whispering because it was so quiet you could actually hear him breathe. Everyone was so respectful and orderly; not one person was making a sound when it was time to be quiet. Then Hiro would say something in Japanese, and they would all cheer and go nuts again. We had no idea what he was saying! Even so, it was the coolest concert I’ve seen in years!

Next we met up with Devo and went to meet a whole onslaught of interviewers who were waiting their turns to get a moment with the legendary Spudboys. First it was Japanese MTV, who had set up an interview with Devo and Polysics together at one table. It was Mark, Jerry and David, along with Hiro and his two female bandmates, Kayo, the keyboardist, and Fumi, the bass player. Mark and Jerry said some very cool things, praising the Polysics highly. Mark told Hiro that he had used the Polysics CD on his office phone system, forcing the people on hold to hear it. Mark then said that it was Devo’s goal to stay home and mow the lawn, and Jerry agreed, saying they were glad a band had finally come along to carry on the Devo tradition, so they more or less declared the event a "passing of the torch." One of them said that since Devo had been ahead of their time, the world today might be ready for a cover of "Jerkin’ Back and Forth" or "Uncontrollable Urge" by Polysics, and it could be a hit.

A tight interview schedule then had the Spuds rushing off to the dressing room to don their yellow suits and energy domes for another shoot. It was MTV Japan again, with a bubbly English lass doing the questioning. The boys showed up in full attire, also wearing surgical masks. They said that our country is very diseased, and they didn’t want to infect Japan. Jerry was sure to mention in each interview that "We have a retarded cowboy running our country!" It was great to hear them say things like that, and to use words like "fuck" and "shit" during interviews shot for TV. MTV asked them to sign a T-shirt that had been signed by a bunch of other bands from the event. Jerry wrote "EMPTY-V" and drew an energy dome. Another interview crew was from a TV station called "Space Shower TV". After conducting their interview, they asked the band to read off some cue cards for some station identifiers. The guys all sort of rolled their eyes and groaned when they saw the big, wordy card and its silly message: "We love music, we love peace. Space Shower TV." So one of them just started chanting the words out, in a mechanical, Devo style rhythm, repeating them over and over. The other guys started in: "We love music! We love peace! Space Shower TV! We love music! We love peace! Space Shower TV!" They just kept going and going, getting louder and goofier as they went. These poor Japanese guys and girls were politely signaling "OK, cut, enough, stop!" while they churned on, "We love music! We love peace! Space Shower TV! We love music! We love peace!"

Next it was another interview crew, headed by a weird Japanese guy who apparently is some kind of performer. The guy was dressed in a big, white robe and had long hair and big streaks of glittery silver make- up around his eyes. He was very animated, and it was funny to watch him talk and move. He asked Devo to act like they were sleeping in their chairs and to awaken when he gave them the signal, and to act as though they fell asleep at home and woke up in Japan. By this time the guys were pretty haggard from all the Q&A, but they politely assumed the position.

At the festival there were several stages, some several blocks apart. Luckily for us, Polysics and Devo played in the same building. Once inside, we got lots of video of the excited fans, many of whom sported energy domes and home-made DEVO shirts. One Japanese guy said he had over 300 Devo records, some from countries like South Africa and Israel. I got up on the stage with my camera and chanted "DEVO! DEVO! DEVO!" and the crowd went crazy and chanted back. It was probably almost as awesome for me to see all those Japanese fans as it was for them to get a chance to see Devo for the first time in 22 years. Of course Devo kicked serious ass. Before the show I noticed that there was a little cheat-sheet next to the set list on the stage with Japanese phrases like "this song is called..." and "good evening". One of the phrases was "Are we not men?" During the show, Jerry yelled it out to all the crowd: "Boku-tachi-wa-ningen-desuka!?!?" and they all knew the answer... "We are DEVO!!!" they all replied. Before the show, Tony asked Mark, "Hey- when you guys rip off your yellow suits during the show and throw them out to the crowd, do they have to go out to the crowd? Or if I catch one can I keep it?" Mark replied, "Once it leaves my body, it’s every man for himself. You really want one of those ripped up, smelly old things? If you catch it, it yours." Then during the show, when Mark ripped his suit off, he practically threw it right at Tony, who grabbed it up gleefully. Feeling partially guilty, he threw the pants out the Devo-hungry crowd and kept the jacket. That night, in our hotel room, he was looking at the coveted Devo-gear and he said, "This is really cool and all, but I feel guilty because I can always get another one of these later. The Polysics really love Devo, and if I gave this to them they would be so happy."

So the next day, at the Osaka concert, we went to the Polysics dressing room and gave them the cherished jacket. The looks on their faces were far more precious than any Devo Spudwazz ever could be! They immediately took turns putting it on, along with Hiro’s energy dome and doing the "That’s Good" march. Tony has made friends for life in the Polysics. That night, during Devo’s set, his generosity was repaid as he again caught Mark’s stage- worn gear. Prior to the show, he had collected the scraps from the sleeves of the yellow suits, which the band had cut short to deal with the 100 degree weather. After the set, I videotaped as Tony threw the pieces out to the groveling fans. Those Japanese really get into their Devo!

Later at the hotel, Tony had all the band members sign the suit. Jerry signed it last, and just gave it sort of a plain "Jerry-o-Devo". When he handed it back, Tony said, "Thanks a lot. This really means a lot. I’ve always wanted one of these!" "That’s for YOU?" Jerry asked, and he grabbed it back and immediately drew an elaborate drawing of an energy dome surrounded by sperms and wrote "T-O-N-Y" in Devo-style letters. What a cool guy! The day after the last show, everyone left Japan except for Tony, Jerry and me. Jerry stayed to have a meeting with a potential advertising client and to shop for some pornographic figurines. While he was busy, Tony and I went out with Takeshi and had all-you-can-eat crab legs that were easily two feet long. We also rode the world’s tallest, fastest, steepest rollercoaster, and as one sign put it "the world’s first centerless a big ferris!" The next day we all flew back to LA. If I had to say what the one coolest thing about the trip was, it wouldn’t be the concert or the great shopping or the amazing food. It was the Japanese people. They manage to live in a city of over 12 million people, yet they have complete order. They bend over backwards to make you feel comfortable. In the US, if you ask a stranger a question, good luck! If they don’t curse at you, it’s a 90% chance you’ll get the wrong answer. In Japan, every time I had a question, even when there were no English speakers to be found, I was able to get a 100% solid answer to every question I asked. It was incredible. So even if there’s no Devo concert, get your butt to Japan! This is sssick Scott for Devo inc. asking "Boku-tachi-wa-ningen-desuka!?!?"

-Scott Stanton - SICK VIDEO