There really is no-one like Devin Townsend. The Canadian has gone from the straggly haired frontman of metal titans Strapping Young Lad to a suave, eccentric genius fronting his own band. He never seems to stop releasing music, and so to form a gig around his back catalogue is a feat that’s already seemingly impossible.
If you’ve ever been to a Devin Townsend gig before, you’ll know that it’s not your ordinary performance. The already crazy genre-hopping material is backed up by a off-the-wall focus on the odd and extraordinary, not least of all an interplanetary alien called Ziltoid who has enslaved earth trying to find the ultimate cup of coffee. ‘The Retinal Circus’ focuses on Ziltoid, but it also tells many other strange and wonderful tales.
The concert is full of surprises. Introduced by Steve Vai (one of the first men that Townsend worked with in music) we’re introduced to ‘Harold’, whose dreams are explained to be the visual spectacular that we’ll be treated to. As soon as his head hits the pillow, the choir strikes up to the uplifting ‘Effervescent’ and ‘True North’. Anneke van Giersbergen‘s heavenly vocals compliment Devin‘s at times operatic voice and she sticks around for the whole show. From the gospel of the opening tracks, the show morphs into a performance loosely chronicling the 10-minute ‘Planet Of The Apes’. It’s when you see a fireman herding actors dressed as monkeys into a cage that you wonder if Devin has cleverly slipped some sort of hallucinogenic into your drink.
It doesn’t get any less weird from then on. After a tri-factor of songs from ‘Infinity’, we’re introduced to Ziltoid for the first time. A huge roar accompanies ‘Planet Smasher’ as Dom Lawson from Metal Hammer cameos as Herman, the omnidimensional creator. The song is interrupted by a Skype call from Ziltoid’s inexplicably Jewish wife, who informs him that she is pregnant. If ever there was a more appropriate time for ‘Babysong’ from ‘Synchestra’, it’s now, and the concert goes full bizarro with the on stage birthing of a baby Ziltoid from a huge vagina.
The overall story has been lost a little now, but nonetheless we continue on with ‘Vampolka’, ‘Vampira’ and ‘Addicted!’. It doesn’t really matter what’s going on in the story department, because there are a million emotions flowing out of every song Devin plays. An already world class performance is taken to the next level however with the arrival of Jed Simon for a Strapping Young Lad song (‘Detox’), proving to be a more jarring transition than a swan dive into the concrete.
Devin‘s early years aren’t neglected either. Perhaps one of his best songs, ‘Life’, makes an appearance from 1997’s ‘Ocean Machine’ and it doesn’t sound a day old. A couplet of songs follow before another return to SYL and their most well-known song in ‘Love?’. It’s refreshing to see Devin finally accept that the fans can’t forget this stuff, even if it’s not part of his present focus.
It’s important not to forget that it’s not all about Devin though. Guitarist Dave Young takes a relative backseat in live performances, but he’s just as clever when it comes to imaginative output. The rest of the band, completed by Brian Waddell (bass) and Ryan van Poederooyen (drums) would probably never have dreamed that they would be playing acoustic love songs alongside destructive metal riffs, but they’ve become as much a part of The Devin Townsend Project as anyone else.
The production crew deserve all the plaudits in the world as well as outlined in the bonus sections of the DVD. They had very little time to organise something zanier than they’ve ever seen before, and they all put in performances worthy of Oscars across the board.
Written by MG Savage (@MGsavagewriter)
Founder & Editor for DEAD PRESS! | Atheist and antitheist. | Judge of the quick & the dead since 1989.