Friday, November 15, 2019

Devin Townsend @ Salle Pleyel, Paris - November 15th, 2019

After dissolving his Devin Townsend Project a couple of years ago, Devin Townsend wasted no time in recording and releasing one of the more bonkers records in his catalogue, which is both an accomplishment and a compliment. Empath is a sensory overload from beginning to end, a dizzying flux of ideas and sounds that can leave the listener a little overwhelmed. The big question was, how would this transfer to the stage?

The answer is: extremely well, thanks in large part to Markus Reuter who's in charge of all the loops, strings and synth parts on his Touch Guitar. I've been a fan of Reuter since I saw him as part of The Crimson ProjecKt a little over five years ago. His playing and programming are an integral, essential part of the Devin Townsend live sound and experience.

But as essential as he may be, Reuter is only one cog in the whole machinery. Another essential part is monster musician Mike Keneally who played with Frank Zappa and avant-garde guitarist Henry Kaiser. In fact, every singer and musician on that stage (there are ten altogether!) is integral to the presentation.

Tonight is the first night of the tour and if some kinks need ironing out, it wasn't noticeable from the audience. The performances were top notch. 

Was it weird? Fuck yes. The whole thing started in a luau atmosphere with the keyboardist mixing cocktails for the other musicians who started populating the stage one by one, and the cocktail is as good a metaphor as any to describe what went on on that stage. If anyone expected an evening of heavy fucking metal, they got it. But they also got a lot more.

The material ranges so wide it's almost impossible to describe. Metal, prog, math-rock, disco, funk, calypso, bossa-nova, operetta, ballads... sometimes all in the space of one song. Devin indulged in some very funny, silly interludes but it never overshadowed the main reason everyone gathered in this  venerable venue: the music. Complex but fun, demanding yet exciting, the material was warmly received by the Parisian audience.

A lot of songs from Empath obviously but also "classics" from the Canadian madman's entire career: a crushing, majestic rendition of set-closer Kingdom was a definite highlight but the best, most emotional moment was Spirits Will Collide, performed by Devin on acoustic guitar with four backup singers before the rest of the band joins in. A heartfelt, uplifting moment that brought a tear to many a headbanger's eye.

Devin's earnestness was endearing, if somewhat puzzling at times like he admitted to lip-syncing his performances on previous tours. But he also reminded the audience that real life is to be treasured. Concerts are not real life. Concerts take you away from real life. They provide a much needed break from reality. Day to day life. Mundanity. The bullshit, as he calls it. He reminded us of the importance of family and friends. And that's the gift of music: after those two hours with Devin Townsend and his band, real life did seem pretty good.


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