Gig Review: Devin Townsend / Haken – Albert Hall, Manchester (10th December 2019)

The wind howls and rain lashes down on the city of Manchester on a cold December night which, in some cases, might deter people from venturing outside their warm homes. That’s not the case for over 2,000 people tonight however as they make their into Manchester’s Albert Hall for what will no doubt prove to an enjoyable evening. This is the third time that Devin has made his way to the UK shores for a range of events this year, each having a different theme.

Haken (c) Bukavac Photography

Before Devin made his way on to the rather high stage however, we were treated to a superb performance from London based prog-metallers Haken. Having only 45 minutes to cram in as much music as possible, the band brought out the big guns opening up their performance with “Puzzle Box” from their latest album Vector. It was clear that a majority of the crowd had not heard of the band before but Haken paid that no mind as they kept the music coming with “A Cell Divides” and “Earthrise” following suit after the aforementioned “Puzzle Box”. It was during instrumental “Nil by Mouth”, however, when it felt as though the mood in the venue changed and the crowd was really starting to enjoy the music.

The successive cheers that went up after each song that was played after that got progressively louder and louder so it was clear that more people were digging the music each passing minute. “Cockroach King” continued the prog proceeding with split vocal harmonies between most of the band members sounding particularly impressive this evening. “1985” rounded out Haken’s performance tonight and came complete with Diego’s keytar solo and infectious drop-e riffs which ensured that the band left the stage after having gained a sizeable number of new fans that evening.

After a changeover, which comes complete with cheesy beach-hut style music, a short montage listing off the various members of Devin Townsend‘s band that he had assembled plays as each member comes on stage with the audience cheering after each one. The man himself then appears on stage to a cheer that was loud enough to shake the cosmos. Telling everyone to forget about both the crappy weather and what’s going on in the outside world, he continues by saying we’re all going on ‘vacation’ before launching into “Borderlands” from this year’s Empath. Right from the first few notes of the track, it was clear that we were in for a rather special performance with every member of the band looking as though they were having a fantastic time. Mike Keneally, in particular, was a massive bundle of energy moving around his area of the stage and thoroughly getting into the music.

Devin Townsend (c) Bukavac Photography

After this song, Devin noticed that someone had brought some crocheted animals to the concert and wanted Devin to say hello to them. He did proceed to say hello to them, popping them into his shirt and playing a portion of “Evermore” before setting them down around his mic stand and handing them back to the audience member at the end of the song. Little moments like that are things that you typically might not see at your average metal show. Add into that the Hawaiian shirts the band was wearing, the palm fronds and the fluffy unicorn sat next to Diego’s keyboards and we truly were, as Devin said, on vacation.

Devin then continued the set with a wide range of songs taken from across his back catalogue including “Heaven Send”, “Lucky Animals” and the ever popular “Deadhead” which again got a cosmos shattering roar when the first notes appeared. Interspersed equally between the tracks were either small dialogue sections or solos from the various musicians which Devin had on stage. One that was particularly impressive was at the end of “Sprite” when Morgan Ågren came out to the front by Devin and began to play an intricate series of rhythms, which included hitting (gently) a guitar on the top of the headstock whilst Dev moved his hand on the fretboard to create different sounds. It sounds bizarre, but it was one of those things that has to be seen in person to truly get what is being described.

Ending the evening with a Frank Zappa cover and one of the most epic renditions of “Kingdom” which Devin has done, both Dev and his backing band delivered a performance which was unparalleled in it’s enjoyment, musicianship skills and choice of setlist. Whilst admittedly it would have been nice to have a one or two songs from either Transcendence or Sky Blue, the songs chosen all flowed perfectly and there was not a single one that was not met with a thunderous cheer from the audience. Now all we have to do to is wait (in)patiently for his return to our shores for Bloodstock 2020.

All pictures by Bukavac Photography

Devin Townsend: official | facebook | twitter

Haken: official | facebook | twitter

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