Photos by Damien Crocker
There aren’t too many artists that you could see every time they toured and have such diverse experiences with each visit, but most artists aren’t Devin Townsend.
Devin Townsend is an artist who is never predictable and always keeps it interesting.
Entering Freo.Social you could immediately tell that this wasn’t going to be a night of brutal Strapping Young Lad songs or the multi-layered operatic onslaught of The Devin Townsend Project, instead mosh pits, barriers and amp stacks were replaced by a seated floor and a lone acoustic guitar sitting on the stage. The last Australian show in the An Evening With Devin Townsend tour, this was a night for the fans, with the acclaimed multi-instrumentalist stripping things back (as far as he strips things back) for an intimate evening, playing an semi acoustic cross-section of songs from his solo, Devin Townsend Project, The Devin Townsend Band and Strapping Young Lad outfits, and answering audience questions in between sets in a series of humorous, honest and revealing Q&A sessions.
“We want the show” was the shout from the restless audience as Townsend made his way on to the stage and the crowd interaction started early as Townsend was tuning up, his whimsical sense of humour immediately apparent as he laughed that he had forgotten his set list and was going to have to wing it.
So began the winding journey through the mind of Devin Townsend. The laughter stopped and a haunting silence descended on the venue and with captivating opener ‘Funeral’ from Ocean Machine. It was a strange experience, being theatre like with the audience sitting transfixed, Townsend even laughing “That’s a mellow way to start” at the end of the track.
While just using an acoustic guitar, it was far from a straight acoustic set with the instrument running through echo, reverb and a myriad of other effects to create the rich, layered chorus of sound that is his trademark. With relatively subdued guitar work (by his standards), Townsend instead showed off his impressive vocal range through songs like ‘Deadhead’, ‘Ih-Ah!’ and ‘Love’.
Throughout the evening the tracks were interspersed with hilarious and offbeat banter, a dance remix of Baby Shark and some of the music from the Mos Eisley Cantina led into spiel about his latest release Empath, and how he had experienced a mid life crisis, and rather than spending money on hair plugs or fast cars he had spent it all on the album before launching into ‘Why?’. The interactive “let me go home” crowd chorus was lacking a bit of punch, delivered with the usual level of Perth audience restraint, but that didn’t stop the show. After showing off his death metal vocals, Hyperdrive was up next (“This song is about having kids because that’s fucking crazy”), Ziltoid even made an appearance on stage for follow up track ‘Solar Winds’.
The night then switched to the first of two Q&A sessions, with Townsend running through a selection of questions submitted by the audience. Unsurprisingly, much like his music, the questions were a diverse mix, from why he broke up the Devin Townsend Project (“it wasn’t what I wanted to do anymore, much to chagrin of management”), if there were any musicians he’d want to record with (“nobody – it’s not about being egotistic, but because my process is so idiosyncratic”), will there be digeridoo on the next album (“that requires circular breathing and I’m too lazy to learn it”) and advice on what to do for someone who is going bald (“make as much love now as you can” – that’s the G rated translation).
“I’m a drama nerd“ was the introduction as the second set opened with ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserable, showing the theatrical influences that are visible in his music. From there, it was ‘Thing Beyond Things’ and then ‘Terminal’ to finish the short bracket.
The second set of Q&A provided further insight, with the audience asking about what made him want to become a musician? (“the soundtrack for the Dark Crystal” – the Strapping Young Lad song Skeksis showing the influence), had he ever considered dabbling in Broadway? (“I’m in a great position my career where I can do whatever I want… and I hate acting. All I want to do is wander around towns and drink tea and have no one look at me”) and where his comedy came from? (“insecurity and to cover up the fact I enjoy quiet. I like to entertain but it is a defence mechanism”). After a comprehensive run down on his rig (“I really like gear”), the end of the session ran through a myriad of topics, including his thoughts on sex and gender, ideas for a musical, vegan diets and Lord of the Fries, kids, his personal boundaries as an artist interacting with fans, Bladerunner and how he saw ‘We Like To Party’ by the Vengaboys as a metaphor for the apocalypse – everything you would expect to be covered in a standard Q&A.
Closing with ‘Life’ from Ocean Machine, Devin Townsend is an artist who is never predictable and always keeps it interesting. “Being an artist is a mental illness – goal is to run out of things to write about”, in his case it is a marathon and not a sprint, there is no set track on his musical journey, and you are invited to ride along if you want. This many not have been a night for everyone, especially fans of Townsends heavier roots, but for the hardcore followers who understand, this was another truly unique experience and insight into the world of this matchless Canadian. See you on the other side.
- Solar Winds
- Let It Roll
- Bring Him Home
- Thing Beyond Things