Photo courtesy of Rhys Bennett
Headliner: Devin Townsend
Venue: Thornbury Theatre, Melbourne
Date: Saturday September 14th, 2019
Review by Tomina Vincent
I can’t think of any better way to spend a gorgeous spring evening, than in the opulence of the Thornbury Theatre, and in the company of one of the most prolific and unique artists in music today. Devin Townsend has proven time and time again that he is the master of giving complexity a listenability it often lacks, as well as a mixing engineer and producer to behold - not many succeed in deciphering and appropriating complex music stews of the Townsend variety. Above all, Devin is a larger than life personality, while being an open and generous frontman, and of course the friend-next-door that makes the whole room erupt with laughter. Having been a fan and follower for a decade, I feel as though I’m catching up with an old friend tonight, and that is exactly what everyone else seemed to feel by the end of this magnificent performance.
Devin comes on stage to deafening applause. The first thing he asks is ‘How was your day?’, and the evening continues in this low key conversational manner until the end. Taking a moment to change his shirt, also met by applause, he plugs his guitar in and takes us away for the next 2 and a half hours.
The set is filled with classic tracks like Ih-Ah!, Hyperdrive, Why? and Funeral. Townsend’s voice is breathtaking, not only because of it’s power, but also its versatility and dynamics. Gentle, soothing verses give way to almost operatic choruses and incredible distortion - this certainly isn’t your average acoustic show. In a dizzying switch of moods, Devin often stops mid song and turns to hilarious banter, or as he proclaimed several times, his ‘stand up routine’. What’s really endearing about this is also what made this show so special - although in a fancy theatre, the mood was that of being in Devin Townsend’s living room. He is open and transparent even when it comes to what’s running through his mind while he’s on stage, mentioning how it bothers him to play this venue again because, ‘well I’ve done this before!’. He continues to poke fun at himself, calling his latest record Empath a ‘midlife crisis record’, with the audience laughing in agreement. Despite pointing out frequently his jet lag and the general whirlwind of the last year, Townsend has a wide smile on his face and he is by all measures mesmerising. By the time the intermission comes around, he has performed for over an hour, which felt more like 20 minutes.
Photo courtesy of Rhys Bennett
Once we are back, it’s time for the second part of the show, which mainly features a Q&A session. While being able to get through a few questions beforehand, Devin tackles a big pile of paper where fans had the chance to write down their questions and ask him anything, and he goes through every single one, even going over time to make sure everyone was being answered. During the session, Townsend addresses his creative process, explains his ‘wall of sound’ technique and the challenge of placing layers across different frequencies, his fascinating way of perceiving music via his synaesthesia and his obsession with hiding Easter eggs in every corner of his songs. When speaking about the human condition, he is incredibly insightful and wise and his heartfelt advice for the audience was to ‘call yourself on your own bullshit’ - to dive deep into self-examination, to think about empathy and truth in a way that is real to you and to observe how you react to and absorb the world around you. The insight with which he tackles these questions is undoubtedly that of a well travelled soul, both musically and spiritually, and one couldn’t help but love the man even more than before. Especially when a fan asked him to compose a riff for his new band to ‘get them started’, to which Devin played three notes, and said ‘There you go!’, drowning in laughter and applause.
Walking out of a show like this is a first for me. I’ve seen many acoustic tours and I knew roughly what to expect from one, but this was something way more intimate than just stripping layers down to a guitar and a microphone. We were allowed inside the brain and inner monologue of one of the geniuses of modern music, and he is just as wonderful, welcoming, warm and open as we all want our idols to be.
Thank you, Devy!