WORDS: Perran Helyes
The sight of a man wearing a jacket adorned with MAYHEM and VENOM patches making his way into Manchester Cathedral immediately makes it clear that tonight’s show – indeed this whole tour – is out of the ordinary. But then a merch stand selling puppets of the now beloved Ziltoid the Omniscient character is just one of many indications of one of metal’s most out of the ordinary performers DEVIN TOWNSEND, here tonight on one of the final dates of his “An Acoustic Evening With” tour playing cathedrals like this up and down the country. Upon entry the most immediately obvious thing is that this place is cavernous, angelic sculptures and a vast stained glass window overlooking the stage which Devin himself later likens to a portal to somewhere unknown.
Support act VERSECHORUSVERSE appears, and once again it seems surreal observing an audience of long hair and black graphic t-shirts in front of someone like this. Potentially more open-minded as the DEVIN TOWNSEND fan-base may be this is still a metal crowd, and VERSECHORUSVERSE certainly has a hell of a lot of guts to come up here as just one man with an acoustic guitar and a set of songs rooted firmly in the folk well that tonight’s headliner has in his softest moments drawn so heavily from. Impressively though, he wins them over. His joking demeanour and stories set a good tone for the rest of the night and are genuinely endearing, and in his performance he proves himself as a pretty amazing singer. A rough edge comes across almost as JAMES HETFIELD-isms, reaching almost over the top levels at points and being especially impressive in some sustained roaring notes, and his intentionally comical yet musically well handled improvisation following a snapped guitar string again leads to the crowd warming to him.
Tonight’s all about DEVIN TOWNSEND though, greeted by cheers making it apparent just how adored he is not just as a musician but as a personal figure. Opening with the serene Let It Roll from 2006’s Synchestra, using this stripped back environment as an opportunity to air some rarer cuts from the get-go, this concept immediately makes total sense, Devin‘s rich voice and the warmth of his guitar reverberating throughout this incredible setting. The zany theatrics, poozers and all, are gone – this is Devin at his most pure. Not to say the laughs are lacking; if anyone in metal could pursue a career in comedy it’s him. Solar Winds sees the surfacing of the Ziltoid voice if not Ziltoid himself to appreciative laughs all round, his falsetto is for the evening christened “Barbara-Wandra” and given its own persona, and both between and during songs he effortlessly engages the crowd in a way few can. Vicious STRAPPING YOUNG LAD classic Love? is transformed into a creeping minimalistic slink, Devin letting loose some of the few hair-raising shrieks of the evening which without the blare of an extreme metal band behind him are all the more unsettling – which he chooses to offset with some poop jokes bringing proceedings back down to Earth and reminding us that tonight is indeed “An Evening With DEVIN TOWNSEND“, intended to be close and friendly. This dichotomy between the soul-stirring and the amusing remarkably doesn’t clash or result in a frustrating inconsistency in tone, both mastered and rolled into one.
The crowd meanwhile plays their own part in making tonight something special by giving their utmost respect, silent in total reverence during the softest sections even when Devin again unleashes his extraordinarily tuneful scream during Deadhead and engaging when appropriate, attempting to master the tricky choral part in Juular which Devin knowingly taunts them with or partaking in the most inspiring singalong of the night during Life, that uplifting chorus utterly life-affirming. An ethereal Hyperdrive, a gargantuan Kingdom which is greeted with sheer euphoria, and the raucous closing Bad Devil see more crowd participation, and perhaps the moment which captures the essence of the night best of all comes in Ih-ah! which Devin dedicates to a couple in the crowd who were married to the song, asking not just for him to sing to them but everyone in attendance. Here it is apparent that that metaphorical barrier between performer and audience has been utterly done away with tonight. There’s an unparalleled connection here, and the man himself feeds off it and seems to gain just as much as those watching. At this stage in a career which has veered from extreme metal to ambient to comedic sci-fi musicals to prog to poppy anthems to country, there’s not a lot DEVIN TOWNSEND could try his hand at that which would be greeted with too much scepticism and these acoustic shows just seem to be yet another victory for one of the most multi-dimensional and dynamic artists our world has ever produced.