Here at MetalTalk we don't like to do things by halves and this week has been no exception. We didn't want to review just one Devin Townsend gig, we wanted to review them all!
Such is our dedicated and widely spread excellent team of staff with impeccable taste, we were able to cover the week's events as they unfolded with the two warm-up shows culminating with the grand finale of The Retinal Circus. Get a brew ready, it's a long one!
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The Devin Townsend Project live review Pt.I - Tuesday 23th October, Northumbria University, Newcastle.
I've been a massive fan of Devin Townsend for a long time. His irreverent, offbeat and downright strange take on progressive rock and Metal has always excited that music nerd inside of me. However, despite many, many attempts, I've never been able to catch him live. Imagine my surprise when he announced a warm up show at Northumbria University in Newcastle. Wasting no time, I was ticketed up and ready to finally see one of my idols live in my home town. To say I was excited would have been a massive understatement.
Even before the band took to the stage it was clear that this was going to be something special. A projector was set up which started displaying some random videos which I'm assuming lead into the 'Retinal Circus' set. When I say these videos were random, I'm not kidding, it's the only way to describe them.
Billed as Ziltoid TV, they consisted of a multitude of little animations and Python-esque skits. The audience found them generally amusing until a video featuring Ziltoid himself appeared. Singing along to 'Badger Badger Badger'. Yeah, really. If you hadn't gathered by now, Devin Townsend has a bit of a twisted sense of humour. Either way, everyone laughed, so the videos did their job and made the sound checks and gear transition much less dull.
When the band made it to the stage, to rapturous applause, they kicked in with the intro and opening track from the brand new album, 'Epicloud', namely 'Effervescent'! and 'True North'. As the backing music built up, Devin reminded the audience that this was a warmup show and to ignore the invisible choir, just to enjoy the music. When he does the 'Retinal Circus' show proper, he'll have a full choir and a complement of backing vocalists, for the warm up show he was making use of backing tracks. Not that anyone minded, though.
The band and Devin himself were on superb form. Their sound was spot on. That huge wall of sound that Devin is known for was in full effect, from the wonderfully thick guitars, to the rumbling bass, everything sounded perfect. I've seen many shows at the Northumbria Student Union before and none have ever sounded this good.The set list for the night concentrated mostly on Devin's more recent works, so we were treated to tracks from 'Deconstruction', 'Epicloud' and 'Ziltoid The Omniscient', all set to a mix of beautiful and downright bizzare animated backdrops. In particular, 'Lucky Animals' had a display showing men in ape costumes dancing in unison. Contrast that with 'Where We Belong' which had beautiful artist renditions of planets and geometric patterns.
The band were clearly having fun on stage. Devin was taking great joy in mocking the audience and generally taking the piss. During the clean breakdown section for 'Planet Of The Apes', Devin gestured for the audience to wave their arms to the ballad tempo by yelling "C'mon everyone, let's be gay!", much to the audience's amusement.
A couple of older songs were dropped in to shake things up. 'War' then 'Vampira' had the long term Devin fans jumping and grooving for joy. However, the latter half of the set featured my favourites from Devin's extensive back catalogue. 'Colour Your World' from the 'Ziltoid' album had the audience going nuts and waving their Ziltoid puppets in the air. Yes, the band sells hand puppets of Ziltoid. You should all want one.
After another couple of songs from 'Epicloud' the band hit their peak for me. The mighty 'Juular' came up, resplendent in its sheer heaviness. The band played with the music video for the song playing from the projector reminding me of what a bloody cool song it is. Throughout the whole gig, Devin was interacting with the crowd, having fun and generally joking around. If he wasn't singing, he was either pulling a face or grinning like a simpleton. You can tell that he still has the time of his life on stage. At one point he even borrowed a bunny-eared hat from a girl in the audience, revelling in his own absurdity.
As the set closed with 'Grace', I couldn't help but realise what a spectacular gig this had been. Devin Townsend is one of the funniest, most engaging frontmen I've ever seen live. His constant jokes about the most stupid things were persistently funny and endeared the audience towards him.As well as Devin's skills with an audience, his (and his band's) absolutely flawless delivery of their set is one of the most fun experiences I've ever had at a gig. The song choices were perfect, the performances were spot on and there wasn't a bad aspect of night.
If you can ever catch Devin Townsend on tour in any capacity, then I strongly urge you to. It's an experience like no other.
The Devin Townsend Project live review Pt.II - Wednesday 24th October, The Junction, Cambridge
So tonight started in typical fashion with the homemade movies and then we realized the whole band was stood side of stage (small venue open plan stage - nowhere to hide). Cheers erupted and the band walked into the spotlight, Devin casually moseyed up to the mic, "Hi, how are we all doing tonight? This is my informal entrance I will next be doing a formal entrance in which I walk to the side of the stage and back on again and we pretend this whole awkwardness didn't happen."
He then explained to us that this gig is a run through of part of the "terrible" gig that's happening this weekend ('The Retinal Circus') and admitted to fucking up the first track the previous night and that Anneke was only to appear in digital form.
So after a humbling informal entrance Devin then left and returned with the formal entrance, literally walking in a circle, and the show began. Devin joked about "having" to play new songs but to be honest I actually wanted to hear them. So in order off the album 'Epicloud' were; 'Effervescent!', 'True North' and 'Lucky Animals'. I really wanted to do the silly dance and jazz hands, but no one else did so I'm not gonna be the one looking silly!
In fact, the Cambridge crowd were very still, very much nodding and crowded at the front but no real movement - I was a little disappointed as I was ready for a right bounce! Devin actually commented that the audience was very polite so they gradually they warmed up to some movement - maybe they just didn't know the new stuff.
The Devin Townsend Project: 'Kingdom' (Live in Cambridge)
In this video you can see RVP's kick drums are blue, they actually had lights inside ad changed colour throughout the set, tres cool!
Anyway the show continued. A change of pace was announced with 'Babysong', which I was surprised was played but I love the song so was pretty happy - but should you really be surprised by anything from Devin? Then wham, another eye opener when bassist, Brian Waddell, leaped into the bouncy melody of 'Vampolka' - could it be? Yes, it was!!! So now the crowd really got their boogey on and of course 'Vampira' followed. Three tracks in a row in order from 'Synchestra'.
Two more tracks in order from 'Epicloud', a stellar performance from drummer, 'RVP', on the one track from 'ZTO', 'Color Your World', and then an odd choice from 'The Hummer' - this should be interesting... BANG, oh no he tricked us and it was actually 'Kingdom'.
I tell you what - these new tracks have really got some oomph to them, a massive feel of grandeur. The show concluded with a couple more new tracks and just the one encore, but with no messing around as apparently they had to get the first train to London ASAP!
This gig was truly more than fantastic, a lovely little venue but with a nice size stage. The sound was pristine and the whole band were enjoying themselves (who wouldn't be, right?). They only played for 90 minutes but apart from that the only thing better than this gig, could only be the next gig, 'The Retinal Circus'...
23rd (Newcastle) and 24th (Cambridge)
Planet of the Apes
Color Your World
Where We Belong
Bad Devil (encore - Cambridge only)
The Devin Townsend Project live review Pt.III - Saturday 27th October, The Roundhouse, London
Devin Townsend's 'Retinal Circus' show at the Roundhouse was a true theatrical and visual representation of Devin's music. The experience was overwhelming, with lots of elements thrown into the mix, including videos, actors, dancers, choreography, fire, explosions, etc, etc, etc, etc. Everything based on a storyline with a main character that aimed to hold a connection between all the stages of Devin Townsend's career and give a degree of sense to it all.
Camden's Roundhouse was packed with lots of fans wearing Ziltoid t-shirts and paper masks of Devin's face which were handed during the long queue outside. The anticipation was building and people tired of waiting started chanting. Finally, the show started with Steve Vai on the screens as the event's host to welcome us to the show and introduce us to its main character Harold.
'Effervescent' from 'Epicloud' kicked in with the gospel choir (actors and guests lip-synching over a backing track if I'm not mistaken), the charismatic voice of Anneke Van Giersbergen delivered the first few seconds of 'True North' and Devin took over in full circus director/animal trainer outfit with top hat and all. Then the stage got assaulted by actors dressed as cats during 'Lucky Animals'.
After this great start that featured Devin's most recent highlights, the show continued with songs from all over his back catalogue, putting an emphasis on its most dense and epic-sounding moments ('Planet Of The Apes', 'Truth', 'War' and 'Planet Smasher' to name a few), all pumped up by the visuals and theatrical elements, which would take too long to describe in detail.
Our senses were attacked by many things, including belly dancers, pole dancers, cages, the birth of Ziltoid's baby through an alien vagina, fire, mayhem, Lots of videos, Devin and Ziltoid French-kissing, monkeys jumping around (you get the idea). The show was more inclined towards the visual side which was successful in being as bold as Devin's music.
The circus had a chance to breathe during some slower moments with songs such as 'The Babysong' and 'Colour Your World'. After a fifteen-minute intermission the second half of the show started soft as well with the acoustic version of 'Hyperdrive', 'Ih-Ah' and 'Where We Belong', contrasting violently with some Strapping Young Lad numbers ('Detox' and 'Love?'), which pleased a lot of moshing fans and featured SYL guitarist Jed Simon.
The second segment featured more upbeat songs and had a more active crowd, triggered by Strapping's more violent approach. After the dense first half and intermission people in the audience were more excited jumping up and down, and the interaction between them and the band was more evident.
All the theatrics and visuals seemed to have built a barrier at first, but it was just a matter of time for the people to fully embrace with the performers and achieve the communion offered by the live performance.
After going through other favourites that included 'Life', 'Kingdom', 'Juular', and 'Bend It Like Bender' (this one had an awesome reception) among others, the band closed with 'Little Pigs' from 'Epicloud' with the band and performers entering the stage one by one to close the show with a farewell to the crowd.
'The Retinal Circus' was evidently a challenge, even for an artist as daring as Devin Townsend. Yes, it was rough around the edges, it had some technical issues (sound and image synchronisation comes to mind) and the storyline/concept was a bit forced in order to fit a sensible overview of Devin's career, but at the end it was clearly a massive success. Devin Townsend was genuinely happy and grateful to the crowd and the people who helped creating a statement that was not only a defining moment of his career, but also a new start to all the great music and art that will come from him in the future.
The Retinal Circus
Planet of the Apes
Colour Your World
Where We Belong
Bend It Like Bender
Wild Colonial Boy
Little Pigs (encore)