2012, Music

Devin Townsend Project live at the Opera House, September 19, 2012

Though I enjoy metal – particularly some of the music that is labeled “alt metal” – I can’t say I eat up the relatively straightforward or traditional stuff, or the stuff that insists on playing only one micro-genre exclusively. It has been over 8 years since my last metal show, a show involving Helloween (and three other bands I can’t remember), and a show that gave me no desire to go see another one. (One of the opening acts did a very great / terrible impersonation of “Stonehenge” at one point; no it was not intentional.)

However, I have been meaning to see the Devin Townsend Band/Project for years, since I lived in residence in first year with their rhythm guitarist. So off I went last night.

Unfortunately, due to my laziness I missed Stolen Babies, a band I had read about previously (probably in Exclaim!) and had some interest in checking out. (Apparently not enough interest to actually get there in time.) I also missed Paradise Lost, a band I know absolutely nothing about.

We entered about approximately 1/3 of the way into Katatonia’s set. There are so many sub-genres of metal these days I can’t begin to tell you what they played without looking at their wikipedia page, and that doesn’t exactly help me. (It calls them doom / gloom – hooray for micro-genres! – but that doesn’t seem to apply to what they actually sounded like.) The band does this weird thing where they play very heavy at times, but have quite a melodic sound from their lead vocalist, and from the piano and other keyboard samples they utilize. It seemed like an unnatural union that didn’t quite work. I’m not sure if it would sound better in a venue with better acoustics, or on record; maybe it would. But they didn’t make all that much of an impression on me. Most of their songs sounded the same and even when they went sort of balls-out, it really didn’t seem that heavy.

The same can’t be said for the Devin Townsend Project, who were, for the most part, ridiculously heavy and loud.

I knew Townsend was a decent singer but he really impressed me live (and made Katatonia’s singer look pretty weak in comparison). He can do that sort of faux-operatic metal croon thing, but also can he ever scream. And he was abetted by an effect on his voice and his own vocal samples throughout, making him seem even better. And he’s also quite funny. Though I’m sure some of his banter consisted of stock phrases he uses in most shows, a lot of it was witty and very meta – and you know how I love the meta. As a stage presence he is funny and charismatic, which is a rare thing (especially, I expect, for a metal singer).

The band were solid and very, very loud – except when they performed a power ballad that Townsend described as his “cock rock” song. They have a knack for playing non-traditional metal styles and rhythms at metal volumes, so there was actually some music that people could dance to (had they wanted to) and music that would have come off as hard rock or even mainstream rock had they turned down the volume… a lot. I only knew one of the songs, from the only album of theirs I have heard (Synchestra).

There were two things about it that didn’t blow me away.

  • The one album I have heard (and one song from another I’ve heard) is quite idiosyncratic. Live, at least on this tour, they are far less idiosyncratic. (Though the banter is idiosyncratic, the music is not.) I love my idiosyncrasies, so it would have been nice to see some of his more whack fusions.
  • Second, the band are a well-oiled machine; perhaps too well-oiled. A number of times they played in time with their music videos. (I forgot to mention we were treated to a video prior to and throughout the show, which was often quite funny.) That shows that they weren’t really changing anything from the album versions. The best live bands, in my mind, don’t ever play the same way twice, and never remind you of their studio incarnation. I have a feeling had I known more of their music, I might have been a little disappointed by how much it stuck to the script.

But I still enjoyed myself: they were unbelievably loud (my ears are still ringing) and varied enough that I didn’t get bored. (Can’t say the same for Katatonia.)

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