Published Sep 21, 2016Though he writes and records in styles ranging from metal to ambient to express his personality through music, Devin Townsend's live performances are often also showcases for his sharp, self-deprecating sense of humour. Amusement certainly wasn't in short supply on Tuesday night (September 20) at the Danforth Music Hall, with a wall-to-wall pre-show playlist of Parry Gripp tunes and the Canadian musical talent's playful mockery of heavy metal tropes continuing to foster feelings of joy and enlightenment within a notoriously aggressive genre.
"We need to make tonight really metal," Townsend joked in his best Phil Anselmo accent. "I want a circle pit from the front of the stage all the way to the back, octahedron-style." Never one to stick to the typical "how are you [insert city here], great to be here" pleasantries, his skewering of the very genre he was there to perform featured plenty of references to hair metal outfits of eras past, irony not being lost on all four members of the band, who were bald.
"Here's a Def Leppard song," he said, in introducing the feel-good "Where We Belong" before juxtaposing the mood with the thrashy "Ziltoid Goes Home," played for the "children of the '80s who still like metal." Townsend had the entire crowd wave their arms gently back and forth for a quiet break in "By Your Command," a cheesy metal move that he promised would be followed by a few others. After taking the stage with an acoustic guitar later on to deliver a quieter version of "Ih-Ah," he then asked the music hall to sing along with lighters and phones in the air, and audience graciously complied. "Seriously, let's make it look like a White Lion or Scorpions deal in here!" he said.
For all his onstage hilarity, Townsend and company came armed with the musical chops to back it up. He traded guitar solos with fellow axeman Dave Young without fail, while the rhythm section of bassist Brian Waddell and drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen proved thunderous in their approach, dual kick drums leading the sonic assault. After taking opener "Night" to round his breathing and pitch control into form, Townsend's versatile voice remained flawless even when pushing through to its highest heights, whether in the operatic "Kingdom" or the soul-rousing, screamed chorus of "Stormbending."
Perhaps most importantly, no detail was spared in recreating Townsend's hallmark "wall of sound" production style through the use of backing tracks triggered by keyboardist Mike St-Jean. The layers of choir arrangements, orchestras and harmonized vocals that give Townsend's compositions their monumental nature on record were brought to life in the live setting, never lost amidst distortion.
"There's one more cheesy metal thing I'm going to put you guys through. You'll know what it is when we get there," Townsend shouted to the crowd before gearing up to close the evening with the crushing and uplifting "Higher." In what he dubbed to be true Mötley Crüe fashion, the crowd raised their fists and punched at the air, shouting resounding "heys!" in time with the band's burly riffing.
Between the Buried and Me preceded Townsend's performance with some musical progressive wizardry of their own, performing the entirety of their prog metal opera Coma Ecliptic front to back. While the stage show wasn't nearly as grand in scope as the concept record, backed only by a relatively elaborate lighting display of their own, the group's musicianship was something to behold.
With his bandmates not missing a note in steering constantly changing time signatures through a relatively muddy live mix, frontman Tommy Rogers shifted between his dry, scraping growl and clean vocals effortlessly. In closing with the soft piano of "Life in Velvet," a mass of lighters and cell phones rose, illuminated in the air, to send the band off, with rounds of well-deserved applause and chants of "B-T-BAM" following shortly after.