Devin Townsend / A Greatest Set masterclass at The Royal Albert Hall

It’s Easter Saturday in the UK. The main rail lines into London are being worked on, causing major travel issues, and there’s the small matter of a wee game of football going on at Wembley between Manchester City and Liverpool to see who reaches the final of the FA Cup. To say that MetalTalk’s journey to a wee venue in South Kensington has been arduous is a bit of an understatement.

Devin Townsend, Vola

Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022

Words: Robert Adams

Photography: Eric Duvet

While it’s not quite planes, trains and automobiles, it is automobiles, tube trains galore, and a wee stroll in the sunshine before we find ourselves outside the simply stunning Royal Albert Hall.

Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022.
Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

We are here to witness Devin Townsend perform the first of what has been billed as The Greatest Sets Of My Life, so the journey should be more than worth it. Expectation levels are through the roof for this show, and I’m pleased to report that those levels were more than reached.

Danish / Swedish progressive Metallers Vola get the evening off to a glorious start. Not having heard much at all from this band, I got a copy of their latest album, Witness, a few weeks back and dove in headfirst. I loved the album and was looking forward to seeing them live, and they certainly didn’t disappoint.

Vola. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022.
Vola. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

Opening with an extended intro version of 24 Light Years from Witness, it’s clear to see and hear that they are more than capable of mesmerising and entertaining Devin Townsend’s audience. The sound is majestic (it is the Royal Albert Hall, after all), and the band show no signs of nerves to be playing here.

Vola. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022.
Vola. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

Head Mounted Sideways, and Smartfriend follow in quick succession and Vola are visibly buoyed by the reception they’re getting. Singer and guitarist Asger Mygind starts off Enter with just his fragile voice and clean guitar. As the song builds as the rest of the band come in one by one, Mygind’s vocals come up to full throttle, and it’s a wonderful experience.

Look out for Vola and catch them when they return to the UK later in the year.

Vola. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022.
Vola. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

All we have is a clean stage, a drum riser and a box for Devin to put his foot on when he plays. It’s a far cry from the Ziltoid show that he performed with the D.T.P. at this venue almost exactly seven years to the day. Where that show had a massive production – full choirs, video walls, huge stairways and farting ballbags, tonight, Devin Townsend lets the music do the talking.

Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022.
Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

Striding on stage with his gorgeous Framus Empath Stormbender guitar, the man himself welcomes us all back to the Royal Albert Hall, thanks us for coming and introduces his band – bassist James Leach, guitarist Stephen Platt and drummer Darby Todd – telling us all how wonderful they were having rehearsed four and a half hours of material in only four days for these shows. He then apologises to the crowd and walks a few circles to centre himself and get in the zone.

Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022.
Darby Todd. Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

Failure is first out of the box, and the sound is eargasmic again. With no backdrops or visuals to fall back on, the lighting is beautifully done, with the historic Royal Albert Hall pipe organ lit as part of the show. Kingdom is next up, and for any “normal” singer to attempt this song so early in the set would be foolhardy at best.

Everyone present tonight knows that Devin Townsend isn’t a “normal” singer, and he pulls it off effortlessly. Hyperdrive, By Your Command, and Life seem to fly by, even with By Your Command clocking in at just under ten minutes, before Devin delves into Strapping Young Lad territory with a punishing run through Aftermath.

Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022.
Stephen Platt. Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

The mid-section of the set features Regulator, the always impressive Deadhead and the most beautiful acoustic version of Ih Ah I’ve ever heard. Having asked everyone to help him sing, the Albert Hall crowd didn’t let him down.

After saying that he’s spotted a single light in the upper circle, most of the crowd lift their phones up with torches on to create their own wonderful light show. It was such a beautiful sight to behold and a privilege to witness such an outpouring of spontaneous appreciation for Devin. It’s a sight that will be forever etched in my memory.

Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022.
James Leach. Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

How can he follow that? By playing the cod-opera Why? From his Empath album, that’s how. The lunacy continues with a nod to his aforementioned Ziltoid show here seven years ago. Introduced as “a song about a farting ballbag”, it can only be March Of The
Poozers.

We then get three D.T.P. songs – More!, Juular and the mighty Supercrush before the set closes with Strapping Young Lad’s crushing Love?

Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022.
Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

Telling the audience that he is contractually obligated to return for a three-song encore, the band very briefly take their leave. Iit becomes clear that technical difficulties are rife on stage. The computer backing tracks aren’t playing ball and this leaves Townsend to chat to the audience as the gremlins are shown the door.

Finally he asks us “are you ready to sing for me again?”, before answering his own question, saying “we were ready three minutes ago,” and we’re into Spirits Will Collide, followed by the Metal meets Polka of Vampira and ending a truly glorious night with the heavy brutality of Detox.

Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022.
Devin Townsend. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

The range of material that Devin Townsend has at his disposal is staggering and tonight showcased just how fantastic he is. His band, James, Stephen and Darby, more than proved their worth, and the show was just incredible.

As a small addendum, the setlist for the show on 17 April was completely different to this one.

Devin Townsend, consummate entertainer, singer, guitarist and purveyor of cheesy dad jokes, the Royal Albert Hall was yours tonight, and you did the hallowed hall proud. This was a Greatest Set masterclass.

Devin Townsend Set List

Failure

Kingdom

Hyperdrive

By Your Command

Life

Aftermath

Regulator

Deadhead

Deep Peace

Ih-Ah

Why?

March Of The Poozers

More!

Juular

Supercrush

Love?

Spirits Will Collide

Vampira

Detox

Vola. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022.
Vola. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk
Vola. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022.
Vola. Royal Albert Hall. 16 April 2022. Photo: Eric Duvet/MetalTalk

Vola Set List

24 Light-Years

Head Mounted Sideways

Smartfriend

Straight Lines

Enter

Alien Shivers

Inside Your Fur

These Black Claws

Stray The Skies

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