A few days ago London’s majestic Royal Albert Hall played host to composer Hans Zimmer, there to conduct an orchestra through his rousing score to recent sci-fi spine-tingler Interstellar. Tonight, a man dressed as a giant farting ball bag will stalk that same stage to the tune of heavy fucking metal. Devin Townsend is in town, and this is a very different kind of space opera.
The lights dim and cameras turn stageward. On screen, Ziltoid finally stops talking about poo. The audience bays hungrily. Devin bounds gleefully to the fore, dressed in the long black robes of intergalactic royalty, here at last in a venue befitting his stature, with a message for the puny humans before him. Waves of exultation greet him, echoing the record’s opening tracks, giant video screens depicting the story in animated comic panels as he conducts ceremonies, harried by a giant Poozer (the aforementioned farting ballbag).
The tension builds towards the full metal expulsion of Ziltoidian Empire’s gleeful headbangery, and we are soon introduced to the War Princess, guest vocalist Dominique Lenore Persi. Sat atop a grandiose throne, she seems pretty pissed off at Ziltoid, engaging Townsend in a melodramatic vocal duel. Proceedings whip along at lightning pace, a bewildering sensory cornucopia that even Devin seems overwhelmed by. Hampered by the need to drive the story, his audience interaction is cut to a bare minimum, and it clearly frustrates him. As we reach the epic finale by way of furious album highlight Through The Wormhole, you get the impression that he hasn’t yet quite figured out quite how to fully realise his creative vision; that in putting on shows of such obvious ambition he is learning by process of doing. Couple that idea with the recent news that he is working on a symphony, and get very excited. The thought that such a talent is still in some respects just getting started is mind boggling.
After an interlude long enough to allow aching grins to subside, Devin returns to the stage in more conventional garb. Visibly relaxed, he’s free to engage the audience in his usual affable way. What follows next is utterly magical. A ‘by request’ set dominated by classic material. Unfettered by Ziltoidian trappings, the outstanding abilities of the musicians onstage shine through. Devin’s vocals don’t just raise the hairs on your neck, they rip them out. His depth and range are singularly stunning. Never has he sounded stronger, and it makes an already special night feel unique; a feeling that culminates in a rare performance of The Death Of Music, a stripped back affair that sees him eschew his guitar, alone at the mic, exposed. Across a deeply personal 12 minutes he pours out his heart, rendering the Albert Hall in stunned silence, hanging on every syllable as the naked emotion of the song contrasts with the gaudy theatrics of earlier on. It draws in to focus his ability to make sense of the confusing enormity of existence. Be it through musicals about farting aliens or tender vocal monologues, the profundity is lost on nobody.
The night closes with a very special request, a rendition of Universal Flame, as chosen by Devin’s son. He joins his dad onstage, followed by a familial entourage whose close bonds of love extend into the hearts of every single person in the room, all joined in euphoric unison to watch someone who opened tonight’s very special occasion as a triumphant alien overlord, end it as a man playing a special song for his beloved little boy. A humbling experience to end an unforgettable night.
Z2 From Sleep Awake Ziltoidian Empire War Princess Deathray March Of The Poozers Wandering Eye Earth Ziltoid Goes Home Through The Wormhole Dimension Z Namaste Night Deadhead Earth Day Christeen Supercrush! Kingdom Lucky Animals Heatwave Funeral Bastard The Death Of Music Universal Flame