Devin Townsend Project, Animals as Leaders and Monuments
The Phoenix Concert Theatre, Toronto ON
November 30, 2014
Many years ago, my first gig as a teaching assistant was grading papers for an introductory university course on popular music. Though he respected my interests enough to invite me to give a guest lecture on metal music, the instructor was definitely not a fan of heavy metal. To him, Spinal Tap’s demand for amps that can be turned up to 11 represented the entire genre, which he described as “unwittingly self-parodic.”
Devin Townsend was always a key figure in my counter arguments, the most “witting” of “self-parodic” musicians I have ever encountered. And though in some ways his recent performance at the Phoenix was a tad low key, the intentional self-mockery was as present as ever – most noticeable (as usual) in his onstage banter.
The show was sold-out so we expected the usual long line of ticket holders outside the Phoenix but security were getting people inside at a more efficient than usual pace. After a brief glitch getting inside (quickly sorted out by Inertia Entertainment’s Noel Peters) we wandered past a tasty-smelling Rancho Relaxo stand and some enticing-looking merch to get settled in time for Monuments’ opening set. The crowd was reasonably diverse but with a distinct bias toward the youngish short hair and stretched ear lobes demographic (perhaps those most attuned to the djent and metalcore elements of the night’s entertainment).
I can’t help but feel I’m in the wrong generation for metal you can bounce to. But that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good groove/prog combo, and if Monuments didn’t blow me away, they kept me entertained and seemed to go over well. Visually there was also something almost obscenely delightful in the burning glow of the stage lights outlining the musicians’ frizz and ‘fro and the long graceful swing of dreads windmilling to the beat. After two or three songs Monuments’ front man Chris Barretto pulled out a saxophone, soloed like a skilled jazz man to lead the band into the next song, and it didn’t sound a bit out of place. I was disappointed to go back to Amanuensis later and not find the sax playing reproduced there.
The ebb and flow of energy was very different for Animals as Leaders‘ instrumental performance and technical virtuosity – but not less. It might be that the precision, combined with the lack of vocals, provides a more intellectual than visceral experience. As geometrical imagery moved across the screens behind the band, their songs unfolded in dry mathematical beauty. That didn’t stop the odd fan from crowdsurfing, but the natural rhythms of Animals as Leaders’ music felt more cosmic than human, like a promise of an out of body experience or of a map that might point you in that direction.
Devin Townsend Project followed according to scheduled, beginning with some “old stuff” (“Regulator,” actually) before diving into tracks from the new DTP double album, Z2. The set list was mostly a combination of the predictable (“War,” “Bad Devil,” “Kingdom”) and the new, so nothing particularly stunning. To be fair though, the last time I saw Devin Townsend Project perform was on a cruise ship with Anneke van Giersbergen (Animals as Leaders performed on the ship too), so my bar for stunning DTP shows is pretty high these days.
Townsend seemed to be feeling particularly retrospective on this evening, claiming he knows less at 42 than he did at 23 and thanking us (or the cosmos, maybe?) for “25 years of this shit.” He also appeared to be out of sorts because of something to do with a T-shirt (he was maybe wearing one he found back stage? I couldn’t quite follow), though it didn’t undermine his reliable skillfulness. That voice, that guitar wankery – all so ridiculous and wonderful and so well supported by an extremely talented band.
Will this be the Devin Townsend show I remember on my death bed? Definitely not. But it was a helluva great way to spend a Sunday night and to remind me and any DTP fan why we keep coming back for more.