The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website


LIVE REPORT: Devin Townsend Project
Tom O'Boyle , April 13th, 2015 15:23

Tom O'Boyle reports on last month's performance at the Manchester Academy

Photo by Andreas Lindmark

At some indeterminate point, the nascence of youth gives way to tell-tale signs of impending withering. There is no sign post, just subtle changes that accumulate over time. As will be later evidenced, these thoughts seem to occur frequently to Devin Townsend, a man whose music has always been about reaching for a deeper understanding of the fundaments of existence, even while that very existence rushes bewilderingly past you. As Townsend has matured, so has his perspective, delivered as ever with unfaltering honesty. Tonight's suitably mixed bag of youthful faces and hoary prog Dads, combined with Townsend's state of mind, make the ageing process feel pertinent.

Norway's Shining are a baffling prospect, an avant-garde ensemble infusing the power of extreme metal with squalls of jazz saxophone. As their music shifts between palatably grooving heft and complex bouts of woodwind-induced maelstrom, they split opinion, but by the end of an impassioned performance even those who can't quite comprehend what they have just witnessed, let alone say they like it, have to agree that it was pretty damned impressive. A gushing Townsend will later exclaim that he can't understand why they aren't "the biggest band in the world"; would that it were that we lived in an age when musical accomplishment was the mitigating factor in deliberating such stature.

Maryland's Periphery switch between looking like a band capable of pulling off such a feat, with their plethora of syncopated hooks and saccharine melodies, and one that stands on the boundaries of too many divergent styles. It often makes them seem a jack of all trades and master of none. They seem a little flat on opener 'Icarus Lives!', vocalist Spencer Sotello's undeniably adept vocal range too low in the mix to truly take flight. Standing at the forefront of the much (Internet) debated 'Djent' scene, a style of progressive metal that took Meshuggah's signature guitar tone and off-kilter time signatures and added pop sensibilities, Periphery have become targets for much mud-slinging.

To wholesale take the sound of a band as iconically obtuse as Meshuggah and sugar it up is the dearth of culture for some, even if the burgeoning subgenre has provided some genuinely exciting and intelligent music; see 2014's 'Language' by the Contortionist for such an example. With the recent release of labyrinthine double album 'Juggernaut: Alpha And Omega', they have attempted to prove their detractors wrong, scaling back the pop in favour of elongated compositions, but in doing so have too far diluted the hook and groove that - love or hate it - they are best at, tonight exemplified by the fervent reaction new song 'The Scourge' receives, one of few on the new record that plays to their strengths. Too geeky and technical for the mainstream, too saccharine for the extreme, Periphery remain a guilty pleasure for some, and a harder-edged alternative for the younger members of tonight's already won over audience, who, judging by the giant circle pit they engender for triumphant closer 'Graveless', care less about the finer points of genre definition and more about having a bloody good time.

Bounding into a rendition of 'Namaste', the gilded edge of Devin Townsend's usual bombast is somewhat dulled by a dose of flu that is self-admittedly beating him down. His vocal range may suffer, but it does nothing to diminish his enthusiasm, even if he seems exhausted. It's the last night of the tour, but only a brief pause in the travelling circus that is his life on the road. Mid-April will see one of his biggest performances to date, a full rendition of war of the worlds-alike metal musical Ziltoid 2 at the Royal Albert Hall. The set list seems reflective of his state of mind, at its most evocative with a rare rendition of the excellent 'Night' from 'Ocean Machine', and heartstring tugging 'Storm' and 'Deadhead' from 'Accelerated Evolution'. All are preceded with homesick stage banter and several mentions of his wife, all of which makes songs about the highs and lows of long term relationships all the more poignant. Alongside dew-eyed reminiscence, his newer material sits a little uncomfortably, 'March Of The Poozers' and 'Deathray' sounding disjointed without the context of their places within the Z2 album, a record whose musical complexity in retrospect outshines its comparatively simplistic narrative. With repeat listens it is companion record 'Sky Blue', a record that Devin himself told the Quietus was never meant to be, that prevails. 'Rejoice' and 'A New Reign' slot in perfectly with latter day material 'Hyperdrive!' and the cartoonish 'Lucky Animals', replete with members of Shining and Periphery gleefully flooding the stage in animal masks to dance, swept along on a wave of closing night euphoria.

As the set draws to a close with oldies 'Christine' and 'Kingdom', Devin's reflective mind state returns to the fore, swinging from encouraging the younger generation to pick up guitars and write from their hearts, to, as ever, ruminating about his own place within the existential maelstrom. He recounts DIY disasters and fantasies about living in isolation with "occasional conjugal visits", before acknowledging that tour fatigue, mortgages, wives and pets are privileges; that life's rewards are part of the journey, and not always the end result. It's almost as if rationalisation placates his unsettled heart, it just so happens to be a therapy conducted publicly, a desire for personal evolution he wants to pass to others. If you think it's cheesy, he'd be the first to admit that you're probably right. The first to call attention to a badly sung line, or a long list of rock star clichés, it is self-effacement that makes him relatable, because behind any and all rock star egos or claims of underground authenticity are vulnerable people with hopes and fears, all of us getting older amidst our attempts to comprehend the process. Thankfully there's someone like Devin Townsend to celebrate all of life's magic and mundanity, and assure us that, in the end, it's all going to be okay.