What’s to like?
Three bands, one show, one stormbender of a night.
The low down
It’s rare for me these days to get a gig where I totally dig all three bands on the bill, so when it was announced that Devin Townsend was coming to town, with Leprous and TesseracT in tow, my interest quickly perked up. Here were three acts very much on my music radar, all wrapped up into one tasty live package.
All three of these acts hail from the more extreme end of the metal scene, but all three have brought unique approaches to their music that have helped them to stand out from the crowd, so it was going to be an interesting night.
Leprous, from Norway, had the tough gig of being first on stage, but there was already a sizeable crowd waiting for them. I had been really impressed when they toured with Haken, coming across as a truly original band, not just in their music but also in how they presented it. These guys won the best-dressed award of the night for their snappy new wave look and their performance was just as smartly judged and delivered.
With the tightest of time slots, they concentrated on a six song set that was drawn from their most recent album The Congregation, with the exception of one earlier song played in a briefly truncated version to get things up and running. Not everyone would have been familiar with their songs, and some of the song arrangements can be quite tricky first time round, but the guys nailed it judging by the applause.
Although the band are generally static onstage apart from some cool synchronised headbanging, the energy they were putting into their brand of proto-prog-metal-pop was obvious from their concentration and the drummer in particular was a real dynamo. And once again, I was really impressed by the way Einar Solberg uses his falsetto vocals to soar above the down-tuned guitar riffs and bring an almost operatic feel to the material.
Here’s some fan footage from their set:
I think Leprous made a few more friends that night, and hopefully this tour’s exposure to the wider audiences of the other two acts will help this highly original group to continue making music.
Foe, Third Law, The Price, The Flood, Rewind, Slave
TesseracT, probably had the easiest job of it that night, not having the pressure of being the headliner, but playing to a sizeable chunk of the audience that were there to particularly see them.
From the opening notes everything went up a notch in terms of sound and lighting, and once again I realised that I really like seeing this band live because of the care they take with their live sound. Those down-tuned guitar riffs sound full and meaty and the bass and drums dig deep, and yet it’s never distorted and the vocals and ambient effects are so clearly audible. Here’s a clip from their set:
And there’s a flow to TesseracT sets – the lights tend to stay down and a soundtrack of ambient soundscapes quietly fills the gaps between songs when the guys change over guitars. It’s quite a simple approach but it’s so effective in keeping the energy and anticipation levels up.
The band’s music borrows heavily from the down-tuned metronome approach of Meshuggah, but their ace in the hole is that TesseracT layer that guitar heavy sound with melodic singing on top. The shouty vocals of the earlier material are gradually being phased out as Daniel Tompkins’s singing goes from strength to strength.
It can’t be easy coming up with ways to sing around such dense material but Tompkins has cracked it, and can cut it live, being clearly heard above the guitars. And he makes for a really likeable front man, giving everything to every song, including those the band recorded with another singer, and engaging with the audience in a way that makes you feel he and the band genuinely respect an audience that has paid to come and see them play live.
He also let slip that album number four is now being written, and I’m really looking forward to see where this band’s music goes next. If you haven’t heard them yet, and you like the heavier end of prog, or even just metal, then I’d encourage you to check TesseracT out.
There weren’t any surprises in the setlist, drawing evenly from the three albums, but once again you could see the band were totally locked into their music. They might have been the middle act of the night but there was no complacency in either the pacing of the songs or the commitment to playing them well.
Phoenix, Concealing Fate Part 2: Deception, Concealing Fate Part 3: The Impossible, Of Matter – Proxy, Of Matter – Retrospect, Survival, Messenger, Of Mind – Nocturne
And so to the evening’s headliner, Devin Townsend, – or Hevy Devy as we all know him. Another artist that thrives on originality and unpredictability, and is still brimming with creativity, judging by his newest album Transcendence.
I’ll be honest and admit that I find listening to his albums can be an exhausting experience, given the manic energy buzzing through the music and his ‘wall of sound’ approach to mixing his music, and I wondered if I’d be able to stay the course for a whole live set.
But by the end of the show, like everyone else, I was grinning ear to ear – Hevy Devy is so much fun live. You can see some of that in his live dvds, but actually being at a show is even more fun. The guy is just so exhuberant from the moment he walks on stage, that you can’t help but like him.
And then there’s the songs. From punchy rockers to soaring epics, from gentle ballads to crushingly heavy metal, this guy’s repertoire runs the whole gamut, liberally laced with humour throughout. Again, this guy is another original – there’s no one else quite like him. Let’s face it, how many artists do you know who would write a concept album about an alien threatening to destroy earth unless it serves up its finest cup of coffee?
And behind all the silliness there’s a real musician in there, as I watched him play guitar, he made it all seem so effortless as he spun out his riffs and licks, never missing a beat, and all the time ad-libbing to the audience and constantly engaging in eye contact or other facial expressions. Of course, it wouldn’t work if Townsend didn’t have a solid band behind him, and they’ve played together for long enough now that Townsend gives them equal billing as “The Project”. (I think the Transcendence album may have been the first where it was written as a band effort rather than Townsend calling all the shots.)
The fact that the band are so good at laying down the main music, allows Townsend the freedom to go off at any tangent that takes his fancy, and nothing seems to faze him, even when the whole PA system crashes as it did that night!
For some artists that would have meant “show over”, but Townsend took it all in his stride, happily bantering with the audience without even a microphone to make himself heard, while the guys reset the PA software. Of course, it being Glasgow, the audience weren’t content to merely wait around so they struck an impromptu version of Lucky Animals, the perfect Hevy-Devy-singalong, and the man himself simply dad-danced around the stage mimicking the moves in his hilarious promo video.
And here for your viewing pleasure is what happened the moment the PA went down:
Service was quickly resumed with the next song – the complex and lengthy Planet Of The Apes, after which Townsend ruefully admitted that if he’d wanted to get the crowd energy up again he probably shouldn’t have gone for the most difficult song of the whole show! But we loved him for it, especially when he muffed up the lyrics midway through and ended up ad-libbing “Well we’re totally f*****g live tonight baby!”
And hats off to him for running beyond the curfew to ensure he played the whole show in spite of the earlier technical problems. I guess some bands would have shortened the set or dropped the encores, but Devy? He simply asked the audience to pretend the band had run off stage and run back on, and then carried on, drolly announcing “Here’s the first of the encores you DIDN’T ask for”…..
I’m always impressed when an artist forgoes choosing a hit to close the show, and opts instead from something off their latest album as a sign of their belief in their art. And so the evening ended with the appropriately uplifting Higher, again from the latest album.
|Devin Townsend Project setlist
Rejoice, Night, Stormbending, Failure, Hyperdrive, Where We Belong, Lucky Animals/Life (improvised audience version during PA failure), Planet of the Apes, Ziltoid Goes Home, Suicide, Supercrush!, March of the Poozers, Kingdom, Encore: Ih-Ah!, (Devin solo acoustic), Higher
Three bands, one show, one really enjoyable night!
(* setlists courtesy of Setlist.FM)