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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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?
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.
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
By Your Command
March Of The Poozers
Spirits Will Collide
Vola Set List
Head Mounted Sideways
Inside Your Fur
These Black Claws
Stray The Skies