Live Review: Devin Townsend at Manchester Academy 2

Devin Townsend is a genius. If you don’t know who he is, you’ve got to read this article.

On 12th August 2021 I was a total newcomer to Townsend. It was actually a last-minute Tinder date. Well, what a Tinder date. Devin Townsend and his band blew my mind far out of the universe with his atmospheric rifts and stage aesthetics. It is alien disco metal with an injection of pure cleverness that you don’t see from many artists these days.

Devin played both the main gig and as his own support band – which was an instant lightning bolt of what a transcendent night it was about to be. The ethereal acoustic set was followed by a completely insane metal set. How someone can meld two styles together to appeal to a screaming crowd of people who haven’t seen live music for two years and are baying for the blood of the innocents, I do not know. But he did it.

The acoustic set went down into the souls of every single member of the crowd. He started off with ‘Let It Roll’ a quiet fingerpicking song that develops into a trilling rumble of long high notes and swaying people. The music rolled over the crowd like a trance. Townsend has the voice of an angel and a devil all rolled into one. People who hadn’t seen live music since the start of the pandemic were gathered, together. Standing shoulder to shoulder with plastic pint glasses staring at an actual musician on stage. The red and purple lights flashed in time with Townsend and every member of that audience was memorised. It felt like being introduced to some magical cult you’re you’d give anything to join. Townsend spoke to the audience

“Have you had a crap time?! Me too!” and they let it roar back at him.

You could tell that this was not normal for him either as he laughed and jokingly said he’d “forgotten how to talk to people,” which was fair, as Devin’s last live gig was in March 2020.

The show itself was a warm-up gig his band’s appearance at Bloodstock the following week. Hailing from Canada, Townsend had been unable to bring his usual band with him. So, he formed a band of English players over the internet and had two days of practice before the gig. They were, as my Tinder date said with just a little awe, “Somehow flawless”.

Devin’s previous metal band Strapping Young Lad got him his dedicated fanbase around the world. He formed SYL in 1994 and in 2007 Devin disbanded the group to concentrate on writing a solo album. He played four SYL songs during the show, ‘Aftermath’, ‘Love?’, ‘Almost Again’ and ‘Detox’, which ensued in a lot of head-banging, screaming and extreme euphoria from his die-hard fans.

In the middle of the main show, Townsend launched into a full-on karaoke version of ‘Spirits Will Collide’. The room reverberated with everyone feeling the lyrics, connecting them together on the post-pandemic emotional rollercoaster.

“Don’t you forget that you are perfect
Don’t you forget just who we are
We’re strong enough
Wherever the flame in your heart burns strong”

‘Ziltoid’, the omnipresent, bad-news-for-Earth, alien made several appearances trying to take over during the show. He has been making trouble with Devin since back in 2007 when he was given a ‘fetid’ cup of coffee. Townsend has been having issues with him and the Ziltodian Warlords ever since. This show was no different. Ziltoid decided on an all-out guitar battle with Townsend Himself, who sologasmed him into submission.

Before shouting:

“Ladies and Gentlemen this is song about devils and badness and all sorts of boogieing. I hope you’re ready! I’m not. Oh Wait! I AM!”

The band charged straight into the last banger of the night, ‘Vampiria’. The crowd went mental. Everyone was moshing, dancing and smashing beers around. There was no thought of the earlier sentiment of lingering anxieties about the pandemic. It has all been washed away by Townsend’s music. A baptism of sound.

It truly was an event to behold. I am sure that the added choir he took to Bloodstock was something else entirely. But there is a real comradery around a small venue with a few hundred people, just learning how to be people again after the absolute dung-dumps that have been the last two years.

If you want some of this magic for yourself – Devin is doing a European tour across three months from April to July, in 2022. Get your tickets here.

Check out news and updates on Devin Townsend and his band on his official website, Twitter, Facebook and Bandcamp.

Review by Jess Milner
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