Review by Natalie Zed; Photos by Adam Wills
Anticipation is a tricky thing to balance. While it can be wondrous in its own right — the sweetness of yearning, waiting, counting down — it can also spoil experiences: things get built up too much in your mind, become impossibly perfect. Allowing yourself to anticipate too much, to daydream in too much detail, can lead to disappointment when the actual event doesn’t measure up. I was worried this might happen when the Devin Townsend Project’s headlining tour was announced earlier this year. The date was reserved in my calendar immediately; I coordinated the event with several metalhead friends. The day of the concert, I decided to wear my prettiest underwear; it felt like a special occasion. Through all of my gleeful dancing and endless replaying of Ziltoid the Omniscient and Ki, a constant hum of worry whirred in the back of my head. I was convinced that with so much anticipation, so much eagerness, I would somehow ruin the actual evening for myself.
I underestimated Devin Townsend, of course; I’d seen him briefly perform once before, with Cynic and Between the Buried and Me, right at the beginning of my journey into metalhead-dom. The set was excellent and Devin was incredibly gracious and charismatic. But even that delicious appetizer couldn’t prepare me for the kind of auditory and cathartic feast that was laid out at the Mod Club. With a full hour to perform, and Devin at the helm of a full-length headlining set, the Devin Townsend Project created something not just good, not just entertaining, but special. Dare I say, something a little bit magical?
Due to an uncharacteristically inflexible work schedule, I missed Manahan and arrived just at the beginning of TesseracT’s set. Hellbound overlord Sean Palmerston expressed his admiration for this UK-based band, and I was interested to see them live, if only to see what had so captured my mighty editor’s attention. It didn’t take long before I understood why Sean was so captivated and why they had been chosen to tour with the Devin Townsend Project. While certainly progressive in their aesthetic, with a groovy, experimental bent to their sound, none of those categorical descriptions accurately capture, or even hint at, how emotionally satisfying this band are to listen to. Their music is positively intimate. Songs like “Perfection” are filled with profound tenderness; it’s an audible ache that is positively extraordinary. Dan Tomkins’ voice conveys this quality perfectly, his clean vocals as devastating on the heartstrings as they are lovely to the ears. I was also incredibly impressed by drummer Jay Postones, who could play as devastating as a freight train or as urgent as a heartbeat, as required. After their lovely 45-minute set, I was entirely smitten; I can’t wait to hear more.
A curious thing happened during the break while TesseracT tore down and the Devin Townsend Project set up: rather than a standardized metal playlist set to random, we were treated to Ziltoid Radio, “playing music you hate!” Highlights included Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” and “Barbie Girl” by Aqua. The room was a combination of utterly horrified and grimly gleeful patrons, alternating between sarcastic (secretly joyful?) sing-alongs and baleful glaring. Photographer Adam Wills summed it up best when he laughed and declared, “Devin, you’re a dick” the moment some abomination by Britney Spears began to play. It was slightly torturous, true, but also incredibly entertaining. It was a brilliant bit of pre-entertainment, getting everyone talking, moving and excited before the band started.
The audience couldn’t wait for the main event to begin. Upon first glimpse of an actual band member — guitarist Dave Young, still sound checking — the crowd erupted. The moment the rest of the band strode onto the stage, grinning like they owned the joint, there wasn’t a single person in the Mod Club who wasn’t completely riveted. I could positively feel the adulation of the crowd coming off in waves, the immense force of the positive energy. And if ever a band deserved that kind of love, it’s the Devin Townsend Project. Everything about this show was carefully planned out, meticulously orchestrated. The sound was excellent and the lighting choices novel and interesting. Every aspect was carefully chosen to enhance the experience. Devin had a stark white light pointing upwards toward his face, catching every crease and shadow, emphasizing every ridiculous expression he contorted his unique features into. I’ve never before seen a man who could appear so scrumptiously handsome one moment then so cartoonishly grotesque the next. He’s also an incredibly charming frontman, posing for as many pictures as possible, endlessly interacting with the audience while praising his bandmates at every opportunity. His banter is also hysterically funny. At one point, he demanded everyone who had masturbated that day let out a cheer; later, he called for a scream from everyone who had ever been a dungeon master. He knows his audience intimately and so talking about his love of nerds and farts endeared him to the crowd even more.
Then there was the music. I have never before stood in a room packed to the brim with people, each one experiencing pure joy for the entire length of a band’s set. The experience was completely breathtaking. Everyone in the room knew every single word to every song that was played — and sang the entire time. The set list drew from across Townsend’s impressive career, most heavily from Ziltoid the Omniscient (to my delight) and Addicted. I was particularly impressed by the range in tone, how the band would whip the audience into a frenzy during “Truth,” create a warmly positive vibe for “Life” and then cocoon the audience in sound, creating something soft and transcendent with “Deep Peace.” The energy alternated between manic and meditative, feeling perfectly natural. It was a strange, varied journey that required the audience to run the gamut of emotions and responses, and everyone was there with the band every step of the way.
This concert was simply wonderful; I loved every single moment of it. I left feeling as though I had just been a part of something not only positive, entertaining and a hell of a lot of fun, but genuinely beautiful.
Throughout the set, every few moments, Devin Townsend would smile, very slightly, and mouth, “thank you” silently to the audience. Or perhaps not just to the audience — maybe they were for the universe at large. It impressed me deeply. It was also contagious, because ever since this show, I’ve felt a constant desire to thank everything around me, to give thanks to a universe that allows metal, positivity and shows like this to exist.
Also, check out our Devin Townsend Project photo gallery here!