Devin Townsend @ Manchester Cathedral
“This is crazy, the last time I played Manchester was at The Castle to a beetle and a dog. And I don’t mean a Beatle, it was not fuckin’ McCartney,” laughs VerseChorusVerse in his thick but ultimately charming Irish accent.
Before him stands a packed, excitable audience and all around the grand, archaic architecture of Manchester Cathedral towers over the stage. Columns point upwards like huge fingers towards the God for whom it was built.
The young, red-haired Irish man croons through sweet acoustic numbers excellently, but it’s not so much his music that really wins the crowd over. A man with a huge character and charisma, he shares jokes with the audience, really relishing the opportunity to not only play in front of an actual crowd in Manchester, but a big one and in one hell of a setting. When he breaks his G string towards the end of the set – “why’s it always the G string, does anyone want to make a joke about that?” – he carries on with a smile. “Let’s get through this together,” he says and that’s what’s so memorable about this performance. The man has a brilliant way of getting everyone involved, he’s friendly, down to earth and simply a lovely presence to be around.
Even if his music was crap – which it certainly isn’t, his closing cover of Sixteen Tons is a striking moment thanks to its sharp lyricisms – he’d still be entertaining by his presence alone. He sells out his CDs tonight and leaves with stage with the vast, breezy cathedral feeling warm and cosy.
Of course, the same can be said of Devin Townsend. Alone on stage with nought but an acoustic, his presence is damnably captivating. Never have I seen so much talent emitted so humbly and so hilariously – he provides his own female backing choir tonight and the way he plays feels like it is just you and him alone in a small room somewhere.
During a typically gorgeous, opaque and vulnerable performance of Ih-Ah, it seems half of the audience joins hands. In front of me, Fantasist guitarist Ollie cuddles his fiancé on their first night out since the birth of their son. Right there and then the sheer power of music, the way it can bring us together, make us love, laugh and, quite simply, live is astounding. There’s an almost indescribable atmosphere conjured through serene chordal work and Devin’s choral falsetto which rises into the Cathedral’s tower, reverberating against the walls and intertwining with the stone. It’s enrapturing. The rest of the world simply doesn’t exist when he’s up on that stage.
He even breaks down the insanity of Deconstruction into a softer acoustic reprise, albeit one that still sounds dark and dangerous. The mourning Funeral comes across enormous, its gravity and sombreness choking in the rich reverb of the Cathedral. On Juular meanwhile, he jokes when he fucks up and takes a break mid-song for the audience, in full, fun voice here, and him to truly appreciate the happiness of a particular major chord. “Pretend there’s a grime beat going on there,” he says during one momentary part of silence in the song. He pads around the difficult redesign process of the song into the acoustic format with a brilliant humour.
It really does seem that all this man touches turns to gold and to see such a prolific figure in such a magnificent setting is, for everyone here tonight, a moment to savour.
Words: Phil Weller | Photos: Anthony Firmin