Reviewed By Leo Kindred
It’s a big night in the metal calendar when the immensely talented and bonkers Devin Townsend announces a show. Having played 4 one-off gigs in London last year, showcasing each of his 4 albums under the Devin Townsend Project banner, he’s again doing something special in my nation’s capital, and this time he’s aimed big.
A full concept show, with the works; choir, stilt walkers, a dramatic story, all against a back drop of material from his lengthy career in music. And it’s a sell-out tonight in the roundhouse; it would seem with an accessibly humorous, often self-effacingly ironic style and sound, Townsend’s following has grown – gathering new fans with less aggressive material, but still managing that old dilemma of not alienating the original fan base with unsurpassed aplomb.
On the 3 big screens a face from Townsend’s past appears, shred guitar wizard Steve Vai, whom Devin was vocalist for way back circa 1993. Vai introduces the concept, an amiable character called Harold, who faces existential dilemmas regarding the world, life, the Universe in general, and how to address the problems, such as paranoia, powerlessness and the like which arise therein. He climbs into a bed at the top of the stage, goes to sleep and dreams…
Townsend and cohorts, including aforementioned choir and angel-voiced vocal collaborator Anneke Van Giersbergen arrive and belt out the intro of ‘Effervescent!‘ followed by ‘True North‘ and ‘Lucky Animals‘ from the new Epicloud record. Townsend has dressed the part in white suit and top hat, and people dressed as animals prance around, before being assailed by actors in gorilla costumes on the following track ‘Planet of the Apes‘.
The performance musically varies throughout, between great and shit-your-pants awesome. It even rules on one of my least favourite Townsend numbers ‘The Baby Song‘, during which the narrative follows Devin’s alien character Ziltoid the Omniscient learning from his wife via Space Skype that he is to be a father.
As you’ll of probably gleamed from that the storyline, a bit like on the Ziltoid concept record, gets a bit ropey. The dramatics also have an amateur feel. Vai’s recorded narration throughout has a bit of unfortunate lag between his voice and the picture, and Devin misses his vocal cues a couple of times whilst talking to the various people on the screens.
BUUUUT it doesn’t matter. When you hear ‘Truth‘ you headbang, when you hear ‘Addicted‘, you rock. And throughout there’s dancers, contortionists, bellydancers, and, to finish the first half with ‘Color Your World’ and ‘The Greys‘, stilt-walking grey alien things.
After the 15minute interval the tunes just keep coming. Beginning with a sublime acoustic rendition of ‘Hyperdrive‘ and then ‘Ih-Ah‘ before a massive, beautiful piece of cosmic loveliness that is new number ‘Where We Belong‘.
And then…ohhh then. A bizarre argument ensues between Steve Skull (Steve Vai but a puppet skull, just go with it) where he taunts Townsend’s for neglecting to play any Strapping Young Lad. Devin persists with the charade of explaining he doesn’t do any of those songs anymore, doesn’t feel it now expresses his true artistic -BANG! “Psyche!”, shouts Devin.
Jed Simon of Strapping appears, the riff from ‘Detox‘ begins rolling like a titanic cybernautic horse, and I. JIZZ. MY. FUCKING. PANTS! The place moves with a fresh intensity as around 2,000 people spontaneously lose their shit, whilst Jed and Dev bust out the first performance of SYL material in about 7 years.
Not much could top that, ever. But we ‘Bend It Like Bender‘, enter the ‘Kingdom‘, enjoy ‘Life‘ and Jed comes back out to perform another SYL favourite ‘Love‘. The audience sway hands following the performers and choir as the euphoric party-vibe begins to take hold, and I high-five and hug strangers.
Suitable big gay newbie ‘Grace‘ brings us to a close with the epic refrain of “Never fear love!” Then something odd happens. A door is put up on the side of the stage and a couple of sofas and a television are put out, mimicking a living room layout
One by one the band, Anneke, Jed, Devin and “Harold”, knock on the door, embrace and sit on the sofa as Devin performs a song I’ve not heard before, a heart warming number called ‘Little Pig‘ while women dressed as lumberjacks sway at the rear of the stage.
This sounds utterly deranged, but the effect is sublimely uplifting, and as Vai ends the show with a positive message on the unity of mankind and love you just feel all glowy inside.