I consider myself a big, big Devin Fanboy. Have been for close to 20 years and most likely will be forever. Therefore this will be a highly subjective review, leaving very little to no room for any relativity whatsoever. The man can do no wrong in my eyes, I just wanted to give our loyal readers an impression of an unforgettable evening.
On with the review!
With a career spanning over 20 years and nearly 25 albums, to say that Devin has built up an impressive resumé is a huge understatement. I'm not even going to bother to explain who he is because anyone with even a remote interest in heavy metal is bound to have come across one of his musical outputs. Whether it's Strapping Young Lad, Ocean Machine, Devin Townsend Band or the Devin Townsend Project, or perhaps even Casualties of Cool or his vocal duties for Steve Vai. Add to that his producing jobs for bands like Gwar, Lamb of God, Soilwork and others and it's safe to say Devin is one of the hardest working men in metal at the moment.
Since his debut in 2007, his Ziltoid character has been a fan favorite, with his own radio episodes as well as the ZTV clips. Originally intended as a way to amuse his son and to have a solo outlet for various ideas he couldn't use in his more serious projects, it is an insane mix of weird puppetry, kitsch-y sci-fi ridiculousness, insane heavy metal and catchy pop music and lots more. Fans have always wanted a return of the coffee addicted alien and so last year saw the release of Dark Matters, as part of the Z2 double album; another concept album, but this time with a host of musicians and collaborators (including yours truly in a special audience recording made on tour during the end mix stage of the recording, but I digress..).
So there we were, early in the morning of April the 13th, in our Eurostar that would take us under the sea to London.. Both of us giddy like teenagers with anticipation. After arriving our bus took us straight to the RAH we already spotted some Devin fans waiting to pick up their tickets. Ours were E-tickets so we proceeded to check in at our hotel, close to the venue. We needed to rest a little due to lack of sleep and nervousness and after recharging our internal batteries we set out to get some nice sandwiches and ginger beer for a preshow picnic on the stairs leading up to the RAH. One of the great things about Devin fans is that they are an unlikely and incredibly varied mix of all kinds of people with one thing in common: pretty much all of them are nerds and dorks (those aren't even my own words, Devin makes no secret about how he sees his fans... and we don't even blame him...).
The sense of anticipation was palpable with every person entering the outer doors and the atmospere was already magic and it would only become more magic once the doors to the inner hall were opened. Now, I've been to quite a bit of venues in my life, some nice, some utter poopholes, some even worthy of being called 'quite impressive'. But even though I saw the pictures, nothing could prepare me for the immense overwhelming feeling I got entering the Hall itself. If you've never been there, it's very hard to explain the grandeur, the size and the history of it all. Goosebumbs allover, I can tell you that. Even though I am normally at the front row at his shows, this time we had seats on the upper ring, with a breathtaking view of the hall and all the spectators and the stage. The show was to be divided in 2 main parts: the actual Return of Ziltoid show and a 'by request' show after the break.
So first up: The Return of Ziltoid! After a 15 minute pre-show video, explaining briefly the insane antics of Ziltoid and his masterplan of taking over the world by becoming a celebrity the band entered the stage to blast out the starting blocks with 'Z2'. Basically the show was the complete 'Dark Matters' part of the Z2 album played integral. But this time, we had Poozer (a cross between a butt and a ballsack, don't ask..) puppets on stage, Ziltoid puppets, awesome visuals containing Captain Spectacular, Herman the Planet Smasher and War Princess Blattaria. The War Princess even made a real life appearance in the form of Dominique Lenore Persi (of Stolen Babies), who added her very impressive vocal work to the musical chaos. Now I mention chaos, because that's basically what it is; an insanely chaotic whirlwind of progressive metal madness, wrapped in a ridiculously convoluted story full of fart jokes. I won't bother explaining it all, it's best to undergo the crazyness yourself... Soundwise the Hall lived up to its reputation because it was absolutely perfect. Maybe a bit too loud at times but that's nitpicking. There was one thing very noticeable and that was the fact that even though the crowd response was immense, it wasn't quite as immense as I would've expected. Especially after the huge expectations. Was it that the expectations were maybe too high? I felt a very, very slight underwhelming feeling myself but the show was very entertaining, funny and the band played a supertight set.
But then, after a 25 minute break, in which the insane videos of ZTV were shown (the Badger song, Ziltoid and Schnuffel Bunny and a plethora of wacky vids found all over the web) Devin rejoined the stage and expressed his thanks for the support to all the fans and gave a little intro on how the second part of the show would go down. And then, magic.. First up was 'Namaste', the opening track from what Devin regards as his worst album, namely 'Physicist'. The sound technicians apparantly tweaked their buttons in the interlude, because it was absolutely spot-on now, even more perfect than the Ziltoid part. The typical wall-of-sound left everyone breathless and it was already apparant that we were going to witness something very memorable for the next hour... Crowd favorites from various Devin albums passed the revue, like 'Deadhead', the monumental 'Kingdom' (I would have been highly surprised if they passed on the opportunity to play that one) and 'Night'. But also tracks he rarely performs, such as 'Earth Day' from the Terria album.
But the absolute highlight of the evening was the trio of songs from Ocean Machine, namely 'Funeral' (which left yours truly and my wife teary-eyed), 'Bastard' and the pinnacle of awesomeness: 'The Death of Music'. Ditching his guitar and doing this stripped-out song meant he had to step out of his comfort zone, sort of the equivalent of being in your underwear on stage. Relying solely on his tremendous vocal abilities. At the end of that song, I have never, ever, ever heard any crowd, anywhere, explode in such a roaring, thunderous applause and cheers. Devin was visibly moved and all throughout the show his face was locked in an expression between 'what the hell am I doing here' and 'I can't believe this is happening'. And not only on Devin's face; Dave, Beav, Ryan and Mike were equally overwhelmed by it all. I've been following the man for years now and even I felt proud of them. I can't even begin to think how his parents, who were also present, must have felt. For the final part of the show, it was time for Devin's 10 year old son to be invited on stage, receiving a warm welcome from the crowd. Rayner's personal 'by request' song was 'Universal Flame', from the Sky Blue part of the Z2 album. Joined by the VIPs, the roadies, technicians and his wife for 25 years, Tracy, it was time to go out with a bang, one final big party..... We left the Royal Albert Hall and saw nothing but happy, smiling faces everywhere. A complete rollercoaster of a show, by far THE most impressive thing I have ever seen in my life (and I saw some monumental shows in my life..). Life-affirming and such an energy boost that it lasted for weeks after. In fact, while I write this I still can't wipe the grin from my face...