So where do you start with Devin Townsend? Metal legend? Musical genius? Complete nut job? Well the truth is probably somewhere in the middle of all of these. Readers of this illustrious tome will be fully aware that the majority of our team are pretty big fans of the man. After turns with Steve Vai and then driving forward Strapping Young Lad, his prolific solo career has seen his stock rise to a level where he can now headline at the Royal Albert Hall (although he was criminally low on the line up at Sonisphere this year).
Townsend’s latest release under the Casualties of Cool banner has already been reviewed by Matt earlier this year and it is one of the most stunning albums of 2014. An intimate evening at London’s Union Chapel coincided with a couple of days work in London and was an opportunity not to be missed.
The Union Chapel is a working church and is a hauntingly beautiful building, saved from dereliction in the 1980s. It also serves as an entertainment venue, homeless person’s project and a grade 1 listed building.
As I approached the entrance the queue of expectant fans stretched along Compton Terrace. Plenty of DTP t-shirts were on display along with a number of Ziltoid shirts (I still don’t get this part of Devin’s world). As I joined the queue I found myself talking to the parents of James Leach, bassist with support band Messenger who has also been part of SiKth, The Hell and Krocodil. They were thoroughly lovely company and we mused about the demise of some of the music venues around the UK. As an aside here folks, do join any campaign which supports live music venues, such as the recent petition to save The Fleece in Bristol. Support live music!
Entering the church, which was flooded with the dying rays of the evening sun through the many magnificent stained glass windows, I purchased a signed CD and took my seat, taking the opportunity to position myself on the end of a pew at the back. The Union Chapel provides a brilliant view from every seat as the floor slopes towards the stage. However, the extra leg room and clear sight line was a good choice.
Messenger arrived on stage to a warm ovation. They are a London based band who had played at Sonisphere earlier this year. A five piece, Messenger play a fusion of progressive rock, folk and psychedelic music. It is certainly not three bar rock n’ roll. They have a layered complex sound which has shades of Floyd, Porcupine Tree through to Radiohead. Playing a short set of five songs from their debut album Illusory Blues, Messenger who comprise Khaled Lowe (guitars, vocals), Barnaby Maddick (guitars, vocals), Jaime Gomez Arellano (drums, percussion), Dan Knight (guitars, keyboards) and James Leach (bass) captivated the audience from start to finish. They were an excellent choice for the openers and I shall be hunting their album down for further listening. 8/10
Casualties Of Cool
Arriving on stage to the expected ovation, there was the usual technical hitch which appears to dog Devin Townsend every time he plays the UK. He immediately cracked a couple of jokes and was then told in no uncertain terms by COC partner Ché Aimee Dorval that the talking had to stop. He was also somewhat comically told that he had a maximum of three “thank you’s” for the entire show. Dropping the houselights, the band then delivered 90 minutes of the most sublime country rock. Extended opener Daddy set the tone with delicate structure and Dorval’s beautiful voice to the fore. For the entire evening, Townsend was content to play the music, supplying the vocals where needed but for the main allowing Dorval to lead. Fans of DTP will know that she has worked with Townsend before on 2009’s Ki, but in this setting she was really allowed to demonstrate her vocal range along with her mean rhythm guitar playing. The Code, possibly my favourite track from the album followed, and by this time I was already pleasantly mellow and relaxed. In fact, the hardness of the pew probably stopped me drifting off a couple of times during the evening as it was so comforting. (*Cough*-Matt) Imagine a warm duvet slowly enveloping you into a world of complete bliss and you aren't far away. That’s not to say it was boring; oh no, this was captivating stuff and Mountaintop, Flight and then Ether continued to both sooth and amaze in equal measure. The quality of Townsend’s guitar work was just spectacular. You’ll be aware of his musical abilities from his solo work, such as Ziltoid where he played all the instruments but for me his guitar work is as underrated as many other great rock musicians. He is, as you would expect, surrounded by excellent musicians and tonight was no exception. Forgive me for not capturing the names but alongside Townsend and co-collaborator Dorval was the other musician from the album, Morgan of the bassist, guitarist, percussionist and keyboard player; However, Matts Ågren, the other collaborator on the album was present on drums. As the rest of the evening unfolded, there was the occasional eerie silence prompted by the atmospheric setting and the sheer quality of the musical delivery. However, this was not at all uncomfortable and indeed enhanced the enjoyment with everyone desperate to absorb each note. The music continued with Moon / Pier, Bones and the delicious Forgive Me before finally a quick opportunity for Devin to kick out the jams with an enthralling guitar/drum duel with Ågren during Deathscope. Closing with The Bridge bang on the 10:30pm curfew; a lengthy and deserved standing ovation followed. I, like the entire audience had really been enchanted throughout the evening by a performance far to the left of much of Townsend’s other work. This really was ‘late night music’ as Townsend had previously referred, but of a quality which actually surpasses much of his heavier work. Outstanding stuff and another contender for gig of the year. 10/10