Devin Townsend @ The Royal Albert Hall
When Devin Townsend sung ‘Twenty five years at the factory’ on The Mighty Masturbator in 2011, it seemed to be prophetic of his career-long struggle to connect. He expended a lot of energy creating art which he wasn’t emotionally invested in, and saw his honest, truthful solo records largely ignored by the press. Since he began the DTP quadrilogy, a project to solidify a fresh identity in the musical world, Devin has finally seen his success and popularity coincide with his immense talent. His show at the Royal Albert Hall tonight felt by all accounts the pinnacle of his transformation from misunderstood cult hero to a real, legitimate musical force. Selling out the Royal Albert Hall (in around an hour, no less) is a huge achievement, but it was up to the DTP to deliver on a night when it mattered the most.
Thankfully, Devin had his (to quote The Mighty Masturbator once again) ‘saving the world boots on’ and performed a 2+ hour, 24 song set that expertly married his love of the absurd and his penchant for incredibly moving and powerful music. Set one consisted of Z2: Dark Matters in its entirely, opened up by a slideshow of humorous images (including a dog defecating on its own testicles) and a 20 minute video of Ziltoid conversing with his spacecraft. Musically, the 50 minutes of Z2 were pure spectacle, and the transition from short film to album was more natural than expected. The whole set was very much like watching a movie, with Devin and co. acting as the orchestra in the pit dictating proceedings. Z2 suddenly made sense in this environment, with cannons firing puppets into the crowd during Deathray, two choirs, Poozers running amok and a full cast of characters both on stage and represented on screen. It made us realise just how little Devin sings on the record – and for good reason. As a natural introvert, he distances himself from proceedings and plays the conductor and director of the action. For all his bombast, he’s made it clear in interviews that he’s comfortable in the background. He was clearly enjoying himself throughout this set which he’s described as a dream come true. Highlights included the incredible War Princess and singalong finale Dimension Z during which the lyrics got displayed on the screens Disney-style. Overall, hour one was a lot of fun and a once in a lifetime event. I mean, when are you ever going to see women running around on stage in giant testicle costumes at the Royal Albert Hall again?
At this point I’d just like to complement the Royal Albert Hall’s organisational quality as I was able to buy merchandise, go for a smoke, go to the toilet, buy a beer and sit down within the 25 minute interval. Bravo. Oh, and the venue is beautiful with perfect acoustics. Do go if you get chance.
The curtain came up on the second set and anticipation was thick in the air for a mystery ‘by request’ set that really could have seen Devin throw up just about anything across his 25 or so albums (yes, twenty five… if Devin isn't the most prolific musician in rock, then I don’t know who is). The band opened up with a fierce rendition of Namaste from Physicist (a superb album – fuck the naysayers) which sated the need for any Strapping Young Lad material to make an appearance here. Next was Night, a cut off Ocean Machine which turned out to be foreshadowing of the ‘theme’ of tonight’s show. Deadhead/Earth Day were up next and an excellent representation of what Devin can do with a little more time to expand his musical ideas. He does play these often, but they’re crowd favourites, and rightly so, and it’s hard to complain. Christeen, Supercrush! and Kingdom were all great fun and true singalongs in every sense of the word, the trio creating a comfortable arc of poppy to heavy whilst remaining buoyant in their positive spirit. Things got silly for Lucky Animals with a call for four to five thousand pairs of jazz hands, and Heatwave saw Townsend represent his country side with some guest banjo and straw hats galore. This lighthearted double bill was required, though, for what came next: the seminal and jaw-dropping performance of Ocean Machine’s dramatic final triptych – Funeral, Bastard and The Death of Music. This is reason alone to buy the DVD when it sees the light of day and elevated the show from being memorable to truly special. The Death of Music saw Devin sing without a guitar for the first time in my memory, and was as passionate and emotive as the studio recording from the 90’s. I’ve never heard him sound so vital and the lack of thick, wall-of-sound instrumentation allowed his voice to rebound around the walls of the hall. The guy is one hell of a vocalist.
To close out the night, the band invited the VIPs and Devin’s own son and wife onto the stage for a rendition of Sky Blue’s Universal Flame which, like Grace at the Retinal Circus, was an overwhelmingly positive full stop on the evening and sent everyone home (myself included) with beaming smiles.
Overall, it’s hard to fault a show that made me laugh, brought a tear to my eye, and left me feeling simply that it’s great to be on this planet if not just for these kinds of nights. This wasn’t a ‘going through the motions’ kind of show, it was a real labour of love and a truly special place to be. It’s a night I will carry with me forever as a testament to the joy of following your dreams, of how a vision can put a smile on thousands of faces. As the man himself put it: ‘we are all one, connected’.
Words: Ben Armstrong