Devin Townsend Project Live- Islington Academy 26/03/11


You know what? I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – Devin Townsend is a rare genius. (Though he does have his odd moments.)

Having been a bit of a Devin devotee on the quiet, it’s been awesome over the last few years to be able to stand up and admit to my fixation on the guy. Any kind of Devin show feels a bit like a support group – Hi, my name’s James and it’s been 6 months since I saw Devin play, and half an hour since I last listened to “Addicted!”. I’ve been trying to wean myself off by listening to Strapping Young Lad; But I find myself awake at night humming riffs from ‘Terria’.

Finally I know I’m not alone. But, like most forms of group therapy, there are steps involved.

Namely riots, massive queues and support acts.

When the TUC announced the day of action in London, I sort of feared the worst, but aside from a few black clad vigilantes, most people mooched around in Hyde Park, and most peoples evenings were uninterrupted.

But, that did  mean most people who wanted to see Devin decided not to risk any possible hold up, and turned up early.  Long queues seem to be a regular fixture for me at the moment, but since I’m english, (and, riots excepted, we’d rather queue than make a fuss) I grin and bear it, using the time to remember to get extra cash for a Ziltoid coffee mug. (Which I later defiled with a cup of tea. Very english, I know)

The sole European tour support, Aeon Zen, were… er…. odd. Now, I kinda like prog, and I kinda like cheesy power metal, but I’m not entirely convinced that the two mix. That’s not to say that the two are a ‘chalk & cheese’ pairing, more like ‘oil & water’ – they won’t always ignite, but the fire will be immense if it does.

While obviously technically capable (kinda makes you sick that Rich Hinks, the guy who writes this stuff ,is 22) and comfortably holding the ‘sole support status’, their music really is the sort of thing you either love (as a sizable proportion of the crowd did), or you find initially hilarious, then taxing (as everyone esle did).

That goes double for flashing your lyrics up on screen. U2 tried it and it didn’t really do them any harm, but, they were pretty ridiculous to begin with. But, with the right execution, it may well work for Aeon Zen, assuming they can tweak it a bit.

Like Devin himself, Aeon Zen do seem to be the sort of thing you either love like a pet you’re a little ashamed of owning, or are the soundtrack you find yourself talking over while waiting at the bar. And you’ll already know which group you fall into.  Go see them if you’re in the latter. If you’re in the former, have a little more respect and talk a bit quieter.

I’ve been to the Islington Academy before and thought there were a few too many people there. THIS  show was insane. When I left to get my coat during the gap before the encore, I couldn’t get back in again. Not due to door-staff, more the (Super)crush (!) of what looked like an overcapacity crowd.

Not really in a dangerous ‘Metropolitan police kettling style’ way; more the good-natured informal introduction to people that you get at live venues, but squeezed against  four more people than usual. The sort of closeness where you put your hand in your pocket and you’re not entirely convinced that it really is YOUR pocket. Doubtless there are some people that’ll get a kinky thrill from this, in which case I say to you ‘Go see the Devin Townsend Project, but don’t just go for the interpersonal contact’.

Watching a video of Ziltoid the Omniscient fist-pumping to the Vengaboys wasn’t quite what I expected to see when I got up that day, but, hey – when you’ve got a mascot that’s as recognisable as Eddie or Murray (but infinitely more fun than either), I guess you’d just want to mess around with it too. Even as a bizarre outlet for the strangest thoughts and phrases you can think of.

Opening proper with ‘Addicted!’ and ‘Supercrush!’ we get to meet ‘Devin – the Metal Lord’ – 50% gurning, 50% over the top poses (including Canadian nipple play) and 100% volume. Yeah, I know that that makes 200% BUT THAT’S WHAT YOU’LL NEED WHEN YOU’RE ROCKIN’ THIS HARD. All coming at a time when you think you can’t get squished any further.

As Devin albums go, ‘Addicted’ probably IS my favourite – it sounds like over-the-top glammy death metal, blown through with lyrics about internet porn and bowel movements.  Live, it’s a wall of caustic joy.

Almost. I found myself why the vocals during ‘Supercrush!’ sounded, well, a bit off. I did, however, realise while looking around that the off-key voice belonged to the crowd.

The WHOLE crowd.

Ok, no ‘Almost’ then. Better make it a ‘totally’. Or something else Wyld Stallyns-esque.

Staying with the more-metal-than-metal approach, ‘Kingdom’ is similarly ‘violent yet optimistic’ – with drums that can be used to protect the earth from stray comets.

And there endeth the first section. After this it all slows right down, goes all trippy, then goes all bat-shit mental again. This, then, would be ‘Ki’ Devin making an appearance, and a few other Devins thrown in for good measure.

What makes Devin as captivating as he is is not his technical ability (which, as it happens, is vast) nor his songwriting (an odd mix of twisting prog and mind hammering extremity, and pretty much everything in between) but his manner with the crowd. Admittedly it’s pretty easy to act the rock star when you’ve sold out a venue to people who’d worship you if they weren’t quite so enlightened; BUT it’s quite another to act the self-deprecating goof: critiquing your own ability one minute (and begging forgiveness for bad solo’s) and screaming your love for your cat the next.

As a shimmering and oddly brutal ‘OM’ fades, fizzles and flickers, we’re warned that we ,the crowd, will summon Ziltoid back again. Now, initially the Ziltoid album didn’t do much for me, but, when you can see the damn puppet make his onscreen reappearance for ‘By Your Command’, it makes perfect sense. Having the crowd do arenarock style waving to a scifi themed prog-death-metal tune, well, that makes NO sense, bit it looks REALLLLLY fucking cool.

Apparently Devin’s hoping to get the budget for a full on ZILTOID! show, with lasers, inflatable Ziltoidians and all that cheeseball rubbish, and I really hope he gets it. Or enough of it, anyway. Too much money will ruin it; enough will keep its innate crapness intact.

‘Life’ is just as out of place as it always is – a forgotten alt-pop masterpiece buried on one of those great lost albums (as great as ‘Oceanmachine’ is it’s not chart bothering) and marks the point where the set then deviated from the Bloodstock Festival show last August. (Life confused the hell out of people then too).

‘Earth Day’ gets an airing (to the delight of the other SonicAbuse writer in attendance) followed by Devin mocking one of his bandmates for still enjoying the hmmmm….. greener things in life. Which brings us to ‘Bad Devil’ and some REALLY awesomely rubbish onscreen projections.

Fake encore number one involved the band buggering off while Devin stayed and related that when one isn’t touring, it’s sometimes hard to adjust to not being applauded for re-entering a room – you get the idea that Devin never set out looking for mass adulation, and hence doesn’t really know what to do with it now he has it; so he just dicks about, basically). While this goes on we get to watch projections of ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ and adverts for ‘Wilkins Brand Instant Coffee’ play onscreen. The latter are one of Jim Henson’s big break moments, and worth checking out for scenes of Muppet torture. The things you learn in odd places….

And this is where I figured it’d be a good idea to grab my coat. So while I’d love to tell you what the next three songs were like, I’m as much in the dark as you are, because I couldn’t physically fit back in the room. And I’m REALLY skinny. So I gazed longingly at the merch stand wondering if I could getaway with spending more cash I can afford to lose.

That was until we got to fake encore number 2.

For ‘Bend it like Bender’ – the cheesiest, most obvious goofball metal pop racket OF ALL TIME, Devin had been allowed to grab 15 audience members to dance like dicks onstage. And they got to sing too. Whether the removal of 15 bodies allowed me back in, or whether the crowd compressed that little bit extra that I got to squeeze my way back through the doors is unclear. What was clear though was that Devin wasn’t going to act up all night without getting something in return – if he’s gonna look daft, then a few of us have to too.

I fucking love that song.

And, with the lights back up, we spill back out into the streets of Islington, a bit shocked that it’s only half ten, but blissfully happy in the knowledge that a) we’d seen something special take place, and b) it happened in ‘Boob-O-Phonic Stereo’.

Pics by Lucy Isdale of Aperture Angels

Thanks to Sarah Lees at Century Media for arranging the various passes (and for being really nice about me calling all the time)

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