Devin Townsend Project at Colston Hall, Bristol - live review

Canada’s ‘nerd prog’ guru fuses the daft and the divine

Devin Townsend live in Bristol

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While his recent appearances in London have involved residencies, the Royal Albert Hall and all manner of puppets, a brief UK tour that culminates in a run through of the seminal Ocean Machine: Biotech in the capital gives a perfect opportunity for Devin Townsend to delve into his extraordinarily broad back catalogue. It’s also an excuse to bring along some of the finest likeminded musicians, with Norway’s LEPROUS [7] sounding exquisite from the off. Their melancholic mood has a more visceral edge in the live environment, filling the cavernous Colston Hall.

However, that’s nothing compared to the pipes of TESSERACT’s [8] Dan Tompkins, whose incredible range truly belongs in such grand settings. With his bandmates effortlessly exchanging pulsating riffs and transcendental harmonies, Dan ensures the likes of Survival and Dystopia soar. Illness, a few empty seats and a muddy sound compared to the crisp mix of the support acts could have proved to be a missed opportunity for the DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT [9]. However, the self- confessed insecurity that manifests itself in Devin’s stream of consciousness ramblings is overcome with the frontman’s irresistible humour and endless positive vibes from both onstage and in front. From announcing his arrival by asking “Are you ready for a fucking nerdy prog metal party?” to a breathtaking acoustic Ih-Ah! and closing symphonic peaks of Higher, this is a set that confirms his assertion that his entire musical career has been about expressing happiness and purpose. The majestic guitars and Devin’s operatic wail lift Stormbending, while a comically large, smoke-spewing Flying V is brought out for a demonic Planet Of The Apes. But while Devin spends the set mocking his reverential status in progressive and heavy circles, his band continue to show their worth, with Ryan Van Poederooyen’s rhythms driving Failure, and the addition of Mike St-Jean’s keyboards rousing the cinematic scope. For all the daft jokes and posturing, each song is played with such conviction that the assembled Ziltoidian Collective have no choice but to get swept up in the moment and respond with aplomb. That a mind so self-deprecating can conjure these engrossing canvases that produce such euphoria for listener and performer is all testament to Devin’s unique, irrepressible appeal, with or without the help of puppets.

Adam Brennan

Rugby, Sean Bean and power ballad superfan Adam has been writing for Hammer since 2007, and has a bad habit of constructing sentences longer than most Dream Theater songs. Can usually be found cowering at the back of gigs in Bristol and Cardiff. Bruce Dickinson once called him a 'sad bastard'.