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The Return Of Ziltoid featuring Devin Townsend Project

Triumphant space opera explosion!

It starts getting really weird during March Of The Poozers. Devin Townsend is sporting a huge flying V festooned with LEDs; dry ice billows; explosions explode; eight backing singers dressed as members of some sort of imperial task-force march on the spot; a woman bearing an uncanny resemblance to Cruella de Vil sings from a throne decorated in disco lights; videos of alien invasion play across the many screens that dominate the stage, and two anonymous actors in vast pink arse costumes scramble to and fro.

It’s difficult to take it all in, which perhaps explains the strong smell of weed surrounding certain audience members as they walked towards the venue. For some, this is the kind of show you need to prepare for.

And what a show it is. The first half is centred around the story of Ziltoid, a bug-eyed alien from the planet Ziltoidia 9 on an inter-galactic search for the perfect coffee, who invades earth after being served a “fetid” cuppa, and comes up against a rebellion led by Captain Spectacular, played onscreen by WWF wrestler Chris Jericho. The second is a “greatest hits” set selected by Townsend’s followers. More of that later.

The Ziltoid section feels like a corporate recruiting event for a heavy metal version of the Church Of Scientology, but full of magic and confusion and what-the-fuck visuals. My notes include phrases such as “assimilating pants” and “fruitshells on their boobies”, and in the sober light of day I’ve no idea what any of them mean. An enthusiastic man in the row ahead is dressed as comic anti-hero Venom, glove-puppet Ziltoids are thrust skywards, and someone enters the venue accompanied by a giant inflatable hammer.

If this all sounds like sensory overload, it is. It’s overwhelming, and – somewhere amid the videos and the smoke and the arses and the T-shirt cannons and the balloons filled with miniature Ziltoids – there’s so much to focus on it becomes impossible to focus at all. It doesn’t help that the plot is impossibly juvenile; think Douglas Adams filtered through a prism of Morons From Outer Space, with added tit gags. Or that the celestial choir of backing singers are inaudible, or that there are long sections where all the action is onscreen, leaving the musicians to loiter awkwardly onstage. Around the point where the narrator starts to gravely warn of “hairy wormholes”, it all becomes a bit wearing.

The second half, however, is magnificent. It no longer feels like a preposterous space-puppet Nuremberg, more of an ecstatic home-coming parade, and the guitars become instruments rather than props. Opener Namaste is surely the fastest song to be played at the Royal Albert Hall since the last time Flight Of The Bumblebee hit the Proms, while Deadhead features Townsend’s throat-shredding, medical miracle of a vocal. He’s delighted to be here, and it genuinely begins to feel like a landmark, career-advancing performance. Kingdom prompts a standing ovation, the audience provide the vocals on Supercrush! and jazz-hands on Lucky Animals as a circle pit – at the RAH! – starts to form on the floor.

The band don straw hats for Heatwave as bass player Brian Waddell switches to banjo, and the circle pit is replaced by a line dance. Momentum lapses during a lumbering Death Of Music, but is recovered by the time the songs finishes, and Universal Flame brings it all to a climax as VIP guests flood the stage and the guitarist reads out a long list of thank-yous from an iPad.

No encores, file under “triumph”.

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Fraser Lewry

Online Editor at Louder/Classic Rock magazine since 2014. 35 years in music industry, online for 22. Also bylines for: Metal Hammer, Prog Magazine, The Word Magazine, The Guardian, The New Statesman, Saga, Music365. Former Head of Music at Xfm Radio, A&R at Fiction Records, early blogger, ex-roadie, published author. Thinks any situation can be improved by the introduction of cats. Favourite Serbian trumpeter: Dejan Petrović.