Tony Wright, who is also known as VerseChorusVerse, and formerly a founding guitarist in cult instrumental rockers And So I Watch You From Afar, is several songs deep into his set, and introducing the next.
“This song is a story an old guy told me; I woke up with a stinking hangover and this recorded on my phone,” says Tony, before launching into another raucous number.
Besides the tunes, his stage banter is top quality, even if his organisational skills aren’t: “Umm, this one is off the album. I don’t have enough copies, which is either awesome or poor planning, but at least I can say it’s off my soon-to-be-sold-out album.”
Although Wright is probably tired of mentions of the old band, it’s interesting to note that, on the basis of tonight’s show, And So I Watch You From Afar during his tenure must have been one of the only instrumental bands that could truthfully say, “We wrote some songs and decided they didn’t need vocals,” without harbouring the secret that the band simply couldn’t find a singer.
Devin Townsend is a larger-than-life character at the best of times, but somehow, without the amps and the band, he cuts an even more imposing figure. Opening with a reverb-laden acoustic introduction, it seems that Bastard might be on the cards, but instead it’s *Let It Roll *that opens the set, followed by early highlight Funeral, which works, if anything, almost better than the anthemic original from Ocean Machine. Love? is an interesting inclusion based on Townsend’s general antipathy in the past towards his Strapping Young Lad material. Tonight it’s rendered almost as a comic show tune, and it’s lapped up by the audience. Deadhead is another surprise, with Townsend’s formidable vocal prowess powering it forward with unpredictable leaps, operatic boosts and screams as he reworks it on the fly.
Townsend is as blunt as ever, but every rip and parry with the jubilant crowd is done with a smile and a laugh: “Yeah, suggest away. What’s that over there? Yeah, I’m not gonna fucking play it, but go ahead… any more meanness and I’ll have to give up being Canadian!”
Life is the highlight of the set, though. With hindsight, this is somewhat obviously a work of pop genius when stripped back to the bare chords. Serendipity plays a part too, as the crowd shout the first instance of the chorus call-and-response ‘See you on the other side!’ before whispering it the second time around, prompting this reaction from Townsend: “You guys, that was cool!” Later, the crowd sing the solo back at him, as Townsend stands on stage, beaming and shaking his head.
Encoring with a camp version of Bad Devil, there’s no Christeen or Bastard in the end, even though those songs have appeared on previous setlists for this tour. Nevertheless, the crowd definitely have their money’s worth, and Townsend has proven once again his brilliance as a songwriter and performer, if that indeed needed clarifying.