Devin Townsend is not a religious man, yet there could be no more fitting a venue than the reverential beauty of Manchester cathedral for this intimate acoustic set before his gathering of ever adoring acolytes.
You might have approached tonight with a comfortable expectation of what was in store, heartfelt renditions of the quieter moments in his extensive back catalogue, a cosy alternative to the larger than life musical extravaganzas that have dominated recent appearances on UK shores, but you’d be wrong.
The hour and a half set is surprisingly impromptu, part stand-up routine, part heart-shattering emotive sincerity. So far, so Devin, and as he opens with Let it Roll, you can hear a pin drop amongst the graceful archways. Then it all changes. Choosing to sing the song with a high falsetto proves too much, Devin breaking down into puerile guffaws at his own awkwardness. It’s hard to tell who broke first, an audience waiting for a possible punchline, or an artist incapable of taking himself seriously. Fact is, if he’d stuck to the falsetto, it would have been lapped up. It seems Devin, even after all the adoration poured upon him the world over, still lacks self-belief, and that vulnerability is the key to understanding why people adore him. It’s just the first of many human moments amongst some of the most idiosyncratic renditions of his beloved songs to date. When he does eschew the self-deprecating comedy for sincerity, it is powerful.
Deadhead and Deep Peace are spiritual in their profundities, Hyperdrive and Life joyously life-affirming singalongs. Elsewhere, Juular – one of the most brutal cuts from Deconstruction and the last thing you’d expect to hear – is propelled by an audience turned choir, the solos sung back to him in their absence with hilarious effect, blast beats similarly hilariously improvised with great rapport. An acoustic version of Strapping Young Lad’s Love? takes a theatrical turn, delighting those that miss SYL’s maelstrom, and perfectly showcasing the sheer power and dexterity of Devin’s vocal range.
On point all night, from falsetto wails to skin flaying screams, there is not a singer in modern metal who can match him. Between songs (and jokes) Townsend preaches a message of love with a humility learned from a lifetime’s experience of relatable triumphs and tragedies to a congregation hanging on his every word. He may not be a religious man, but he is becoming a religion.