Devin Townsend is a one-of-a-kind force of nature.
The man’s mind is a maze of wild concepts and wacky ideas, giving birth to songs only Devin could concoct. His albums continually evolve and just as you think you have a handle on his sound, he wrong foots you, leaving you scratching your head in bewilderment and awe. To call his music ‘metal’ would not even begin to describe what blasts and floats from your speakers to conjure sounds of wonder – this is BIG music.
Having recently read his book Only Half There, I can only concur with the title as it is a fascinating read (though be warned, it is regularly punctuated with expletives) regarding a complex man. You might expect him to be a serious, maybe sometimes angry man, but he comes across as a generous and considerate person with a terrific sense of humour. We saw him live in Barcelona and the start was delayed by technical gremlins. No star tantrums or strops, he just spent the time extracting the urine from the guys sorting the problems and sat at the front of the stage regaling us with stories and jokes.
His wonderful concept albums are second to none and to really appreciate the scale and scope, the music has to be heard live. I have an intermittently recurring dream, at irregular intervals, of winning millions on the lottery and approaching Devin to put on the largest and most spectacular extravaganza, using all the latest technology and effects, holograms, etc., to interpret the videos to his songs so they could be reimagined in a fully immersive live show like no other.
Which brings us to the third volume of Devin’s Empath Live tour, the best way to listen to the music and the range of his incredible voice. As always the live performances are peppered between tracks, with sound effects and Devin’s witty (adult) humour.
Opening track Intro Montreal is Devin’s spoken intro, with sound advice on how to survive our worries of a terrifying future, followed by a minute plus of disturbing sounds and beats, over which can only be described as babbling voices and a burst of bombast, halting abruptly and allowing Devin to announce second track, Evermore Montreal. Like much of his music, it veers from crushing riffs to Disneyesque keys, with growling vocals to sweet harmonies as he forges his musical journey.
The rest of the tracks are from live appearances in America.
Supercrush, from the Addicted album, is up next and does exactly what it says in the title. It rolls along like a metal steamroller, with a throbbing bassline and soaring vocals from Devin, crashing like waves on the watching crowd.
As a contrast, March of the Poozers, from the Ziltoid the Omniscient album, chugs in on a celestial riff and the battle commences, firing strafes of instrumentation at the captive audience with all the pomp of a military rock opera, followed by a gaggle of cartoon voices as Looney Tunes style music melds with classical. No I am not losing my mind, just trying to describe the anarchic sounds emitting from the stage.
Back to the Empath album for Why, as we stray into ballet arias from Devin with orchestral score momentarily paused for Devin to engage with the fans and encourage audience participation, not that they need much encouragement. It then rises into the atmosphere, weaving through the air as the crowd join in upon instruction.
Whatever the subject matter, every track is imbued with happiness and humour, that must cause infectious smile on everyone’s faces. I remember grinning like an idiot and laughing out loud when we saw him live.
Devin suggests slowing it down after Why and playing a quiet track, much to the chagrin of the observant multitude. Not one to disappoint, he asks them for their choice and they raucously select Hyperdrive from Addicted (originally a collaboration with Anneke Van Giersbergen) which bounces into being with a pacey riff and we motor on like an open top sports car on the freeway. You can almost feel your hair blowing in the cool breeze.
Someone requests Earthday from the album Terria, but Devin confesses he can’t do it all, but will play the riff, which he does to a round of applause. He ropes in bassist Nathan Navarro for vocal narration on the light, comedic interlude Fuck Around Section, which again illustrates Devin’s playful sense of humour.
They stop midway as our genial host advises that’s as far as they have learned with this song and he feels they should move on to Ih-Ah!, which is next on the set-list and also from Addicted. It’s a lighter track with a more ’80s edge and upbeat feel.
We are then treated to comparatively chilled, dropped chord instrumental Gigpig Jam, from the Order of Magnitude album, giving a brief interlude before Forgive Medrifts along nicely, featuring fellow Canadian Ché Aimee Dorval in a duet from 2014’s Casualties of Cool.
We are torn from the slumber by Strapping Young Lad’s Love, and you can almost feel forked fingers punched to the sky as the crowd become a sea of nodding heads. As with all Devin’s live performances, his engagement with the fans is mercurial and they gleefully chant along halfway through the song. Devin professes love for his Mummy just short of two minutes from the end, but not content with the delivery, he apologises and the band then bludgeon on to the end of the track fallout.
The album closes with the epic Kingdom from 2012’s Epicloud, with the grandeur of the live performance outdoing the original. Devin shouts out a final message of hope for the fans as he exhibits the care he feels for his supporters, bringing the show to rousing end, the crowd showing their appreciation as Devin says goodnight and exits the stage.
A master of conjuring light from dark, Devin Townsend is an original and unique talent on album, that comes alive on stage to wondrous effect and sees him in his element with an excellent touring band. This a fine addition to the live collection and Devin’s output as a whole, long may he continue to invent and surprise.
01. Intro (1:52)
02. Evermore (5:19)
03. Supercrush! (5:50)
04. March of the Poozers (6:47)
05. Why? (6:24)
06. Hyperdrive! (3:31)
07. Fuck Around Section (5:01)
08. Ih-Ah! (4:18)
09. Gigpig Jam (4:27)
10. Forgive Me (5:45)
11. Love? (5:18)
12. Kingdom (6:25)
Total Time – 60:57
Devin Townsend – Vocals, Guitar, Bass, Synthesisers, Computer, Orchestrations, Co-Producer, Mixing
Mike Keneally – Guitars
Nathan Navarro – Bass
Diego Tejeida – Keyboards
Morgan Ågren – Drums
Ché Aimee Dorval – Vocals, Guitars
Record Label: InsideOut Music
Format: Vinyl, CD, Digital
Country of Origin: Canada
Date of Release: 4th August 2023