[avatar user=”Sean” size=”50″ align=”left” /]Well what can I say? Devin Townsend was rolling back into Glasgow Town after a year or so and of course I couldn’t wait. I might be a thrasher who loves the heavier straight-up headbanging type of metal but I’ll always have a soft spot for Devin Townsend and his music. This gig was now the fourth time I’ve seen him and his band and in some respects I know what I’m getting, and in other’s I doubt. No matter the outcome at had always been thoroughly awesome and this time was no different.
First up is another band I’m beginning to feel I’m an old hat at seeing live. Norway’s “Blackjazz” Shining (remember not to confuse them with Sweden’s black metal Shining!) are a band I’ve now seen three times. I’ve enjoyed them before and again, like the DTP this time was no different. The band needed no introductions be them epic, atmospheric etc – they simply have to walk onstage and showcase their talent. I will always remember the first time I saw Shining walk out onstage at Bloodstock 2014. They always look smart and fairly clean cut like the kind of band you could introduce to your mum (that is a compliment by the way!) Then frontman Jorgen Munkeby always gives his polite introductions before unleashing hellish screams over his band’s raucous music.
Beginning with “Madness and the Damage Done” Shining were on fine form as always. They always have an immense energy live and the pounding drums, punky guitars and squealing keys only enhance the band’s presence onstage. Shining always have such an incredible variety of styles within their set and “Madness and the Damage Done” showcases this at it’s best. The riffs can go from punky and in-your-face, to have an almost bluesy swagger yet always remain catchy. The drummer is always a highlight – he rarely sticks to conventional beats and works his kit to max through a variety of time signatures and techniques. During a song like “Madness and the Damage Done” this culminates in the insanity that appears in the mid –section. The drums suddenly burst into insane blast-beats like the best of old-skool black metal drummers, while Munkeby drops his guitar and engages in crazy atonal free jazz mania on his signature saxophone. Seriously, watching and listening to Munkeby play the sax is something else – he rocks the sax hard and makes it squeal like no-one else has ever done. His sax playing ability is musicianship I can only dream of! At this point, the keyboard player’s skill really shines, doubling up with the sax in some mental soloing over thrashing guitars creating a soundtrack reflective of the song’s title. Avant-garde music like this truly does reflect the soundtrack to a collapsing mind.
As I said, Shining don’t get boring with their variety of styles. In a track like “1357”, also displayed tonight, there is a much more conventional beat in an almost disco kind of style. Although, the band don’t remain that simple in their composition. There’s always some more substance to the music that gives it a much more creative edge over many of their contemporaries. I always find it interesting that such an avant-garde band can find a way to make their music rather groovy in places, where usually artists performing in this style can remain almost entirely inaccessible – Shining are certainly a very acquired taste but they certainly never fail to get an audience moving.
Shining ended their set by blending seamlessly into their excellent cover of King Crimson’s heavy prog classic “21st Century Schizoid Man”. You would have thought that by now after having seen Shining twice before tonight, I would have known it was coming but I never know when to expect it to drop until the main riff makes a few repetitions. The audience, like me, takes some time to catch on, but when the rhythm guitarist hits the discordant chord stabs in the verse they all know what’s happening. When the bluesy mid-section hits, with it’s catchy 12/8 time riffing, it’s always a joy to watch. The band get themselves lost in the music like they’re having the jam of their lives. The sight always inspires me to go home and pick up my guitar or my bass and just jam and enjoy making an awesome racket.
As I said before, Shining are always good fun to watch live. However much I may have painted them so brilliantly, I’ve definitely come to the conclusion that they’re still not quite my cup of tea. They’re something of an enigma as far as my taste goes. I love watching them live but the insane music isn’t something I think I could enjoy listening to at home, or when travelling to work. It’s unique and not everyone gets it, and this was evident in the crowd reaction. There was only a handful of people at the front of the audience feeding off Shining’s performance while the rest simple clapped politely at the end of each song. Like I said, they are a very acquired taste.
Don’t let my final comments put you off though. I thoroughly recommend checking out Shining live. They rock their unique brand of “Blackjazz” like no other, and it’s always great to enjoy live. Give them a try and see what you think.
Next up was Periphery. I was rather eager to hear what these guys had to offer, especially since I’ve heard a lot about them in various UK rock/metal and guitar publications. The audience were seemingly a lot more excited for Periphery than for Shining, understandably given that to my knowledge they’re the more popular band. The band is currently promoting their latest double release Juggernaut: Alpha and Juggernaut: Omega. The music overall was rather interesting in places – there’s a plethora of various rhythms, time signatures, textures, clean moments, and heavier ones. There’s also a great mix of songs featuring more melodic parts and solos, as well as ones that don’t. The solos on the whole are very tasteful and don’t resort to the mindless rigidly scale-based shredding that so many other musicians so conventionally stick to, even in the faster moments. Overall Periphery pulled off everything brilliantly live, with plenty of energy and crowd interaction. Speaking of the crowd, they definitely became more animated in the presence of Periphery. There was plenty of headbanging and jumping, particularly in the first handful of rows. Periphery even had a few crowdsurfers which I certainly didn’t expect! The singer also was a great watch. The man knows how to handle a crowd, encouraging them to engage with the band and up the energy in the room during the performance. His vocal ability was spot on for his style using a mix of clean vocals and a more aggressive tone at different moments throughout the songs – he pulled it all off well, complimenting the bands interesting style.
However I have to say that unfortunately I didn’t really get into the music. Periphery overall had a very futuristic sci-fi kind of style which I think is cool but their sonic mix-up isn’t quite to my taste. I’d say upon my impression at this show their style is part Obsolete-era Fear Factory (which I do enjoy), part Meshuggah (who I still struggle to get into) and for the most part kind of mid-2000s metalcore (which isn’t really my cup of tea). The 8-string guitar sound just doesn’t quite sit with me personally, and the particular metalcore-esque vocal stylings aren’t really my thing either – both aggressive and clean stylings seem rather “watered-down” whereas for me personally I like my aggression sounding deadly angry, vitriolic and malevolent; and my clean vocals a bit less “whiny”. Note: I hate to use that word – it makes me sound like I’m personally strongly attacking the band and it’s singer but it’s the only adjective I could think of to describe what I heard. I like to think I’m rather open-minded musically but then sometimes when I come across a band like Periphery I worry that maybe I’m still somewhat conservative in my taste in metal. I’d hate to think the childish elitist tendencies I once had when I was in my mid-teens still has remnants hiding in the back of my mind, but I just can’t find myself enjoying a band like Periphery. Now in all seriousness, let that be no negative reflection upon the band – they are a group of seriously talented musicians with their own style and they do what they do well. Every band has it’s own following of loyal fans and it was evident at the show. There was a massive portion of the audience rocking out, headbanging and singing along with Peripery but unfortunately I wasn’t one for joining them. Like I said, Periphery’s music isn’t really my thing but don’t let my opinion put you off seeing them. They perform well, they put on a great show live and their fans love them – go and check them out and see Periphery for yourself and see what you think.
The final act of the night was of course the much-anticipated Devin Townsend Project. Now what can I say? Maybe I’m ridiculously biased because I love his music so much, but I can’t not give Devin and his band a great review. I said at the start of this review that I’ve seen the Devin Townsend Project a few times already prior to this performance they never disappointed me. How could this time be any different? At least in regards to the band’s live performance. They rocked as always and the crowd couldn’t get enough. Evidently the entirety of the room was here for Devin judging by the reaction. There was mass participation be it in the form of singing, chanting, headbanging, dancing etc throughout the entirety of the evening. I’ve never seen a bad DTP show to date.
However this time round, the show was a little different. For a start, I was really anticipating Devin’s usual intro (at least going by the past 3 shows I attended) of the original ZTV where his fan-favourite creation – the coffee obsessed alien nutjob Ziltoid the Omniscient – presents a compilation of silly funny videos from YouTube didn’t happen. In it’s place was a slideshow of images featuring one of Devin’s daft faces superimposed on the people in them – this ranged from classic images such as Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Munch’s The Scream and various old photos to more modern images of celebrities and pop culture from recent decades including Jabba the Hut from Star Wars to the Spice Girls. It wasn’t quite the same, however it did generate plenty of laughs prior to the show. The lights went down and the band eventually arrived onstage before blasting into “Truth” as an awesome introduction. Now under the usual circumstances, one would expect the band to play “War” which usually tends to follow “Truth”. Not this time. From this point the set became really quite different from what I might have expected (though I must say I had no set expectations – Devin has over 20 albums to his name sop the setlist could have been anything!) with the first new song of the night. Representing Z2: Dark Matters was the first song released from said album – “Deathray”. A catchy and upbeat numbers with some voiceover from everyone’s favourite alien mascot (and the Poozonian overlords), it certainly made a great start to set and got crowds moving and moshing. Following this was another curveball which I really didn’t expect – “Namaste” from Physicist. The Physicist album is the only album which has ever seemed to disappoint Townsend fans, as well as the man himself (based on various interviews and album reviews I’ve came across from various sources) so it was definitely unexpected to hear him air a track from the album live. However the DTP rocked it. With it being the thrashiest number in the set the audience acted accordingly with hair flailing in all directions throughout the ABC’s main hall.
The next pair of tracks were great to hear. I thought I’d rarely get to see them performed live since I thought Devin would mostly perform the DTP material (based on my past live experiences) and they are some of my favourite tracks but lo and behold he played them – “Night” (from Ocean Machine: Biomech) and “Storm” (from Accelerated Evolution). With “Night” in particular, I don’t think too many of the crowd were familiar with the song but I think it may have earned a few new fans. It was a joy to hear in the flesh and I certainly enjoyed rocking out to it. “Storm” too provided a great live experience. A much slower and more sentimental tune (preceded by Devin telling the audience he was being a “slut” and performing a song “dedicated to his wife” – which is evidenced by the lyrics, that the song is about his wife, not Devin being a slut) it certainly went down well with a fair few folk joining him in belting out the words. Ending the run of older Townsend tunes was “Hyperdrive” (one I did expect to hear) which has always went down well, again with the audience singing along to every word.
The next chunk of the setlist was taken over by some more recent songs from albums such as Addicted, Epicloud and the Z2 duo. The next song introducing the latter album (Z2: Sky Blue) being a return to the heavier side in “Rejoice”. Also the first single from it’s respective disc from Z2, it boasts an awesome catchiness both rhythmically and melodically and it came across great live. I think I recall a certain lack of vocals featured from the original track from frequent Townsend collaborator Anneke Van Giersbergen (who greatly enhances his work with her vocals being something of “the icing on the cake”) which would have been a little disappointing, even on a backing track, but it was nothing to me since I found myself singing her vocals (albeit down an octave) in conjunction with the main man anyway. Next up was the title track from Addicted, which like many a Townsend track never fails to get heads banging with it’s lower heavy rhythms and screams, as well as all round catchiness. Continuing the run of catchy rhythms was the last new song of the night with “March of the Poozers”. Much like “Addicted”, it got heads bouncing all around to it’s rigid rhythm however it eventually dragged on a little and seemed to slow down some of the momentum to the show’s energy with it’s moodier atmosphere. Am I complaining about a Devin Townsend performance? Never! The band performed it well but I reckon in the future another song representing Z2: Dark Matters might be a better choice to keep the energy and joyful atmosphere of the show going like “Ziltoidian Empire” or “By Your Command” from the original Ziltoid album (a song which I really did expect to hear since I’ve heard it at every other Devin show I’ve been to) – OK, may neither is joyful but both songs certainly provide a much greater energy and would have been awesome to experience live, especially with the voice acting and more intricate riffing.
Approaching the home stretch of the show, Devin then invited the crowd to partake in a little audience interaction. Though he’d admitted we all knew what to do based on our actions throughout the earlier portion of the set. Anyone who’s ever experienced the Devin Townsend Project in the flesh in the past knows what to do when the next song is aired but for all the newcomers, Devin of course had to give some instructions. The song being the main hit off his 2012 pop-metal opus Epicloud, a performance of “Lucky Animals” meant it was time for jazz hands! It’s always great fun to turn round and see 1000 people singing along with the catchy chorus and raising their hands in joyful unison. Keeping the momentum of the poppy side of his career going, next up was another favourite song of mine. From Ocean Machine: Biomech, “Life” was one of the first Devin Townsend songs I heard and I still love it to this day. It’s so catchy and incredibly poppy – my mum even likes it! On a side note, seriously why this song wasn’t bothering the charts in 1997 I’ll never know – it’s a lot better than the myriad of hits at the time by the Spice Girls let’s put it that way! There was a serious not about tonight’s performance of “Life” though. Devin told us that he had been chatting to fan in the audience on Twitter about someone close to him who had passed on so “Life” was appropriately dedicated to him. The song is upbeat and somewhat celebratory anyway, and always comes across great live but for this show in Glasgow it had greater meaning which made it all more poignant. The next song again continued the reign of Devin’s poppier video-spawning hits with “Christeen”. This song in the past took it’s time to grow on me and I’ve since come to love it but I was surprised to hear it live since I didn’t expect it. Again the upbeat-ness of the track and the catchy riffs and chorus invoked a great crowd reaction with more singalongs with the memorable refrain “Christeen that’s all I ask of you…”
Never one short of some humour in his performance, Devin then announced it was time for the encore. The rest of the band left the stage while Devin stated that we would, you know, pretend he’d left the stage then keep chanting and clapping and he’d come back to the stage and play a few more songs….
He took the mic alone and sang a beautiful solo version of “Ih-Ah!” from Addicted. No matter when amped up and full-blown, or stripped back, the song is always a joyful experience. It’s shamelessly pop with it’s typical four-chord tendencies (another one that even my mum likes) but it works and the crowd were loving it, singing along to every word to match the man himself. For the final performance, the rest of the band rejoined Devin onstage for a full blown bombastic rendition of “Kingdom”. Bringing the energy back up to the maximum, the band were on top final form with the speedier riffing backing Devin’s one of Devin’s most powerful vocal performances to date (talking about the Epicloud re-recording of the song and not the original on Physicist), almost operatic yet thoroughly awesome. Reaching thrashier moments not heard since earlier in the setlist with “Namaste” in the middle-to-ending moments of the song, the audience let out one final burst of craziness with moshing and headbanging aplenty before the final “Stay With Me” refrain and the performance was over.
As always the Devin Townsend Project’s performance was nothing short of awesome. The man and his band never disappoint live and the show is always good fun. It’s easy to see why he’s gotten bigger in recent years and long may it continue. I seriously recommend anyone to go and see the Devin Townsend project live – you won’t regret it. I also recommend anyone check out any of Devin’s 20-odd albums. From his performance on Steve Vai’s Sex and Religion to Strapping Young Lad’s City to his solo opus Terria through the Devin Townsend Band’s Synchestra to the Casualties of Cool album, and all of the Devin Townsend Project albums (Ki, Addicted, Decontsruction, Ghost, Epicloud and Z2), I’m convinced the man has something for everyone as every album is different and he never repeats himself. If you’re new to Devin Townsend, check him out – I guarantee you’ll find something from his back catalogue you’ll enjoy. Whenever there’s a new release, and whenever Devin Townsend returns to Glasgow you can bet I’ll be all over it, and you can expect to find out all about it here in the Moshville Times.
Until next time!