He couldn’t believe it. We couldn’t believe it. Nobody could believe it. But somehow Devin Townsend brought his enormous, merrily immature Ziltoidian showcase to the Royal Albert Hall.
“The Queen was here!” Townsend says disbelievingly in the behind-the-scenes documentary that accompanies this live DVD package. Think what you will of his puerile, cringeworthy alien creation, but there is something wonderful about the fact that it’s allowed in such a magnificent setting at all.
As we learn in the aforementioned documentary – thoughtfully narrated by Townsend – an immense amount of care and attention have gone into the Ziltoid show. From Townsend’s original inspiration (“hyper-realistic” puppetry in Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal) to experiments with clay and budget shows, the sense of relief and joy at finally being able to create a top-end, full-scale version is palpable.
It’s eye-popping to watch, but the fart jokes get wearing.
“Welcome to the Ziltoid show guys!” a suited Townsend beams as Z2, *Ziltoidian Empire *et al get underway. Musically you get the brilliant Devin Townsend Project band, beautiful moments like Ziltoid Goes Home, Townsend’s incredible vocal range (from metal screams to musical theatre operatics) and loveable banter. The projections of flying saucers, the lasers and the steampunky War Princess are fantastic to watch. Thematically… well, eye-popping as it is to watch a giant ‘poozer’ run onstage, the primary school-grade fart jokes get wearing for all but the most unquestioning Townsend fan. A mega achievement, show-wise, but a little frustrating.
And it all seems so incongruous next to the second half of the evening – the Devin Townsend Project set, with songs requested by fans on social media. With Townsend in jeans and a comfy-looking hoodie, it’s a far more down-to-earth affair and, whisper it, a fair bit better for it. Ziltoid-free but still huge fun – there’s monkeying around with Lucky Animals, and straw hats are deployed for country jig Heatwave – a commanding spread of lesser-played tracks and big-hitters get thumping, passionate treatment. “Sexual contact, who needs it? I’ve got puppets!” he laughs one moment. The next he’s moving us almost to tears with Deadhead. It’s a triumph of nerdy camaraderie, original songwriting and first-class progressive musicianship.
Whatever your take on the puppetry, Townsend is a real original, a loveably genuine artiste you warm even more to through behind-the-scenes chit chat. Yes, Ziltoid’s childish, plain dumb and could be much funnier, but it’s good to know Townsend’s world can fill the Albert. On a Monday night.