Anyone who has experienced a performance by Devin Townsend can attest to his incredible charisma and stage presence. Few musicians have carved out careers comparable to that of Townsend’s, in regards to the sheer versatility he has established over two decades of performing. After recording and touring as the lead vocalist for guitar legend Steve Vai (Sex & Religion), Townsend released several solo albums under the name Strapping Young Lad.
These releases, along with the subsequent formation and touring of The Devin Townsend Band, established his now trademark wall-of-sound heaviness, phenomenal vocal range, and overall diversity of composition in the metal genre. As a result, Townsend quickly gained a following and a reputation as a multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and producer.
After disbanding both Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Band in 2007, many believed Townsend had opted to settle into more domestic life, leaving the stage behind and instead utilizing his talents solely as a producer. The metal world breathed a collective sigh of relief in 2009, when Townsend released two new albums, Ki & Addicted, and announced plans to tour as the frontman of a newly formed Devin Townsend Project.
His onstage antics and off-color banter, along with his phenomenal vocal and guitar abilities were duly noted last January at the Boston House of Blues, while he was on tour supporting Cynic/Between The Buried And Me. Showcasing his latest release, Addicted (part two of a planned four album DTP series), this tour marked the end of Townsend’s hiatus from performing, and the beginning of a new passage with the Devin Townsend Project. Less than a year later, he has made a triumphant return, not as a supporting act, but this time as a dynamic and electrifying headliner.
The first band to take the stage at The Palladium was UK-based ‘djent’/progressive metal band TesseracT. While it was clear that the vast majority of those present were simply biding their time until Devin Townsend, the general crowd response was positive, and heads nodded appreciatively along to the complex, yet atmospheric songs the band performed. They have seemingly similar influences as peers such as Periphery and Textures, but with the addition of their vocalist, Dan Tompkins, they are able achieve a more accessible alt/pop kind of sound.
His clean and pitch perfect vocals are an interesting contrast against the heavily distorted layers of sound created by the rest of the band. TesseracT sounds as though they are striving to create progressive metal that includes polyrhythms and experimental meters, without losing sight of evocative melodies and emotionally charged transitions. When their set ended, they graciously thanked the audience and left the stage, leaving the crowd in anticipation for the main event: The Devin Townsend Project.
In true Devin Townsend form, his ‘performance’ started before he and his band even took the stage. While most venues opt to play unobtrusive music in a similar style to the headliner during act transitions, Devin was in control of this often neglected aspect. During the span time between bands, ‘Ziltoid Radio’ played hits such as Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ and Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies.’ The crowd responded immediately, first with confusion but then with genuine amusement.
Townsend clearly wanted his audience to have fun, and to strip away the façade of intellect and superiority that has recently become all too prevalent amongst the metal crowd. His objective was certainly achieved, exemplified best when dozens of long-haired men clad in combat boots and black t-shirts belted out the lyrics to Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’ at the top of their lungs. Not surprisingly, Townsend had managed to captivate and entertain the audience, even without being in front of them. After less than a dozen pop songs, the venue darkened and the Devin Townsend Project took the stage.
The audience, already on edge with anxious energy, absolutely exploded with applause and cheers when Devin started playing the first bone-crushing riff of ‘Addicted!,’ and completely lost control when he unleashed his signature scream. The excitement built with every song that followed, and even without guest vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen, his performance of ‘Supercrush!’ was phenomenal, with Townsend taking on full vocal responsibilities.
Townsend’s band played flawlessly, and although some layers of sound present on Devin Townsend recordings were somewhat lost in the mix/not reproduced, the overall effect was still incredibly heavy and multi-dimensional. The monitors occasionally cut out, an occurrence that might have otherwise upset an audience, but with Townsend in control of the stage, all of the focus was on him, not on any technical issues. His interactions with the crowd were sincere, personal, and hilarious.
At one point Townsend singled out someone in the crowd who seemed to be taking himself a bit too seriously. ‘SMILE!’, Devin commanded, his eyes burning with the energy of a true performer. Constantly approaching the front of the stage and pushing his head into the crowd, almost everyone in the first couple of rows was able to touch ‘Hevy Devy.’ Clad in an elegant grey suit and sporting a shaved head, (a classy departure from his signature ‘skullet’), Townsend created the visage of a refined frontman, while completely maintaining a wicked sense of humor and a mischievous air.
The show continued with the band performing songs from almost every Devin Townsend release, including Physicist, Ki, Infinity, Addicted, and perhaps his most beloved album, Ziltoid the Omniscient. Having promised a long show earlier in the set, the Devin Townsend Project did not disappoint. After playing nine songs, they began a four song encore, inviting enthusiastic fans onstage to dance along to perhaps the most unabashedly enjoyable song off Addicted, ‘Bend It Like Bender!’. The set, however long it was, seemed to go by all too quickly, and when the band left the stage, the crowd yelled ‘Devin! Devin! Devin!’ for nearly ten minutes, in the hopes of an even more extended encore. Sadly, once the Devin Townsend Project left the stage, the show was indeed over.
While after most metal shows, the mood is somewhat brooding, intense, and drained, the crowd after Townsend’s performance seemed nothing short of elated, gratified, and exhilarated. The overwhelming feeling of the night was that of pure enjoyment; no pretention, no expectations, no heavy metal elitism. The crowd gave in to the unadulterated joy radiating from the stage, and as a result, were left feeling as though they had all experienced something heavy, electrifying, inspiring, and altogether wonderful.