In 2006 Devin Townsend released a live DVD with the special edition of his organically elaborate album, Synchestra.
Edited together in a loveably DIY fashion, the result was much more than the sum of its parts, featuring a still-dreadlocked, emotionally exhausted Devin tearing through early classics like a man teetering on the edge. Ever a man of extremes, his music has always taken the form of painfully honest public catharsis, delivered with endearing humility. Nine years later, he’s made significant headway, finally seeming happy with his place in the universe. His demons have been displaced in the form of a mischievous being from across the omniverse, Ziltoid The Omniscient, whose latest puerile adventures in attempted world domination are wrought in the exuberantly bonkers Z2, and were brought to life at the Royal Albert Hall earlier this year, a venue of prestigious world renown. That Devin had arrived at such a moment truly signifies just how far he – and metal – had come.
This one-off extravaganza is now available on DVD and Blu-ray to any puny humans who might have missed the spectacle. It’s a slick package replete with a ton of extras, including a ‘making of’ documentary, that has little of the DIY feel of nine years ago, but all of the heart. The two-hour-plus concert is divided into two halves: the first a theatrical rendition of Z2 in its entirety. Here Devin is the master of ceremonies on a stage packed with giant animated screens, a war princess, choir, Chris Jericho, and giant farting ballbags – sorry, Poozers – and filmed in a fittingly dynamic manner that captures the euphoria of the occasion. Never one to curtail his ambitions, Z2 succeeds on the strength of epics such as the bombastic boogie of March Of The Poozers and the hyperdriven technicality of Ziltoid Goes Home, but struggles at times with the narrative aspects of staging a live musical, Devin occasionally awkward when forced to stick to the script.
The second half, a ‘by request’ set of one classic after another, is the polar opposite. He visibly relaxes, at his off-the-cuff best laughing and joking with an adoring audience in between outstanding renditions of such beloved tracks as Kingdom and Earth Day. So much of Z2 is built around spectacle that it obscures his ability to connect directly with deep-seated hopes and fears. Stripped of all theatrical trappings, he does just that with a jaw-dropping rendition of the rarely aired Death Of Music, alone and vulnerable at the mic without his guitar. His voice is flawless, the moment heavy with poignancy as the sold-out crowd is reduced to an awestruck hush within this historic space.
Proceedings close with touching flourish, Devin bringing his young son onstage to play him his favourite song, Universal Flame. It’s yet another joyous moment among the many that Devin Townsend creates. This was a night for him to take stock of how far he has come, once an emotional wreck in a recording studio, now bringing down the house in one of the world’s most distinguished venues. He should be as proud of himself as we are of him. From here, the omniverse is his oyster.
WHAT DID THE NIGHT MEAN TO YOU?
“It really fucked me up, because if you think about how huge and career-defining these things are then I’m not nonchalant about it. And when I’m not nonchalant about things then I just screw it up. That being said, as soon as I came offstage, because it was so intense, I just had to go home and stare at a wall for four days because I just couldn’t put it together in my mind. I was so gibbled by the experience.”
WHICH HALF OF THE SHOW DID YOU ENJOY THE MOST?
“Neither. I just wanted to do a puppet show! Seriously!”
IS IT HARD TO COMBINE EMOTIONAL HONESTY WITH A BIG PERFORMANCE?
“It is hard. Emotionally I am quite unintelligent but the one way I’ve managed to relate with people is through music. But the *Z*2 stuff is more obscured by production; it’s kind of unintentional but it works. Obviously Ziltoid is a metaphor for me, and means I can say and do some of the more outlandish things in my head. But I guess I’m pretty ignorant of how much of a connection I have in that way to people.”
DID THE RETINAL CIRCUS AND Z2 LIVE UP TO THE VISIONS IN YOUR MIND?
“Not even close! Never. I like the idea of what Ashley Simpson, Nickelback or Britney Spears do, but I can’t afford that! But I like actualising ideas… you sit around with your buddies and you go: ‘Wouldn’t it be funny if…’ and that’s basically how all of this came about. Who knows what’s next?”