Devin Townsend Project, live in New York

The inhabitants of Ziltoidia 9 alight in the Big Apple for a brief, intergalactic soiree

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“We rocked so hard,” bellows Devin Townsend at the end of War, a track from his third solo album, “that we broke the screen.” It’s true. It’s only the fourth song of the evening, but the image on the stage left screen is totally busted – a few jagged cracks made from pixels have replaced the moving images that were there.

Thanks to some behind-the-scenes whiz kid, it’s up and running before the Canadian progressive metallers begin the next song, A New Reign. Introduced by Townsend as a “song about dying”, it’s a gloomy, dirgey, semi-operatic requiem that does indeed feel full of the sadness and tragedy of death. Townsend knows it, too. “Enough of that miserable shit,” he chuckles when it’s over, discarding any leftover feelings of melancholy that may be hanging in the air and replacing them with humour.

But that’s what happens at a Devin Townsend Project gig. It’s a little bit of everything – funny and sad, heavy and melodic, hard as nails and silly as fuck. To that end, Townsend’s personality is just as important as the songs he and his band play, and he punctuates their time onstage with a commanding and humorous presence.

Much of the set takes place within the imaginary world of Ziltoidia 9, Townsend himself bringing the character of Ziltoid to life onstage. Both Z2, with its theatrical spoken overdubs, and March Of The Poozers, a heavy, chugging marching song deacribed by Townsend afterwards as Oompa Loompa-core, turn the gig into some otherworldly, immersive musical experience, while Bad Devil brings it – kind of – back down to Earth, a goofy, capricious romp of a song that blasts through a variety of different genres and tempos in wildly crazy fashion.

While there may be five band members onstage, there’s also a backing track for most of the hour they’re there, adding the extra (female) vocals and instruments that these songs require – Ziltoid Goes Home, for example, is an intensely involved and complex composition. Whereas a backing track might usually be frowned upon for rock/metal acts, here it adds to the euphoric insanity and bizarre intergalactic artifice of the show. It all comes to a head with Grace – the words ‘laugh’, ‘love’, ‘live’ and ‘learn’ flashing across the screens as those words are bellowed out above a cacophony of positive, uplifting noise – and the surging, soaring, constant crescendo of Kingdom, which rounds out the night in gloriously deafening style. As the last notes ring out, that same screen breaks again, clearly unable to cope with what just happened. Who can blame it?

The full video from a previous show on the tour, at Chicago’s Metro, can be viewed below.