Tour Review: Devin Townsend Project 2017
38 shows, 18 countries, almost two months on the road – 2017 started with a massive treat for fans of the mighty Devin Townsend, who was joined by Leprous and Between the Buried and Me for all mainland concerts except one, while TesseracT jumped in in the UK. The Progspace has made a tour review before, and this time we visited seven shows to see how the bands progressed through these seven weeks.
The tour started off in Belgium, on the 28th of January in a well filled Trix in Antwerp. When Leprous hit the stage at 8 pm sharp people were still queuing up outside to get in. At the start of the tour, the Norwegians treated the audience to one song more than all the other dates, because Between the Buried and Me only could join the next day. Namely the ever impressive monster of a power ballad “The Cloak” from the 2013 album “Coal”. What a tearjerker, sorely missed on the other occasions. The rest of the set consisted of the start/stop opener “Foe”, always guaranteeing to turn some heads in the audience who never heard of Leprous before, “The Congregation“ singles “Third Law” and “The Price” as first half of the (always way too short) 35 minutes set. Some more “Congregation“ with the majestic “The Flood” and a jaw dropping finale of this Blitzkrieg of sorts with an abridged version of “Rewind”, segue into “Slave”, “my personal favorite song of 2016”, as Dario points out. Stand in guitarist Eirik Kråkenes (filling in the spot of Øystein Landsverk) passed his live debut with flying colors, blending into the well oiled machine perfectly. The band played as tight as usual, so tight that even a metronome must become pale over their precision.
The sound was pretty dry, not too loud, the band sound overall got well delivered, although it missed balance. The keyboards were too quiet in general, sometimes even inaudible, and the balance between the two guitars wasn’t good either. But Chris Edrich, their engineer was new to the band and doing his first job with them. Plus, Eirik decided to play an old style Les Paul model, which sounds quite different compared to modern guitars. So under these conditions, Chris’ job has to be considered very good.
Even though it was not officially sold out (as far as Dario remembers), the venue with its incredibly good sight from front to back (a large cinema hall in its former use) was absolutely crammed for the Devin Townsend Project. Sadly, the sound was a disaster: While the band was doing a good job, it was all way too loud and a sheer overload of trebles. “Even with ear plugs on, it felt way too loud and ear-bleeding and distorted. One should tell live engineers that their loudness war is nothing but an assault!”, says Ray, and Dario adds: “We decided to stay in the foyer and have a sneak peak at the doors when I heard favorite bits such as “Stormbending/Failure”, the “Deconstruction” tour de force “Planet of the Apes” or the “Addicted” highlight “Supercrush”. Closing off the set on a high with the “Transcendence” climax “Higher” was definitely a brilliant idea.
On February 3 the now complete band lineup hit Madrid, Spain. The venue was Sala Riviera, and like most venues in Madrid it’s a discotheque that doubles as a small concert hall. And it came with a special treat, says our guest author Luis: “As soon as I entered I noticed that the roof wasn’t very high, which proved to be beneficial to Devin Townsend’s wall of sound.”
Leprous now played a simple yet powerful 6-song set, that could be seen as 2 3-song sets regarding overall sound quality. During the first half the guitars were somewhat buried in the mix, but Einar Solberg’s voice was superb. Then for the second half as Tor O. Suhrke and Eirik switched to their 8-string guitars they became more prominent, but Einar’s voice started showing some signs of exhaustion. The songs the band chose to play are very demanding vocally and it was still very early in the tour. Baard Kolstad delighted the audience with a drum solo during “The Flood”, “Slave” proved to be the perfect choice as a closer, as the audience had already been entranced by the moodiness and overall dark atmosphere It was like driving the final nail into the coffin.
Between The Buried And Me was the band that Luis was most interested in – after being a fan for over 10 years he finally got to see them live. Their sound was amazing from beginning to end, though some in the audience were screaming for more volume on Tommy Rogers’ mic. The thing with this band is that their dynamic range is so wide that songs go from whispers to full on growling in a matter of seconds. They also cover a lot of different musical styles within the same song, often within the same section. A verse can be straight up rock, and then turn into an all-out death metal pre-chorus without skipping a beat. They also played a 6-song set, “and if they had played 10 more after that I wouldn’t have minded”, adds Luis.
Finally it was time for the headliner, the big guy. Hevy Devy and his band were the real reason people went to the concert, with the venue fully packed by then. The sound was monstrous. Devin likes to play with a lot of delay and reverb, and the venue’s acoustics helped a lot in carrying and enhancing the sound, so every single note sounded huge. Even when this tour was supposed to be in support of “Transcendence”, there were only 3 songs from the album in the setlist. Devin went on a journey through all the facets of his music in the last 13 years, going as far back as “Suicide” from “Accelerated Evolution”, and ranging from the Meshuggah-inspired “Planet of The Apes” to an acoustic rendition of “Ih-Ah!” that had him forgetting the lyrics, and asking the audience to sing along the last chorus but with a death metal voice. “An overall great concert by Devin and his band, full of corny, self-deprecating humour, and a great mood”, says Luis.
One week later on February 10, the three bands arrived in Munich to play the large Backstage Werk. A series of problems with their van haunted Leprous on their route from Switzerland to Munich. With the problems solved at last, the day had been filled with excitement. Trying to help the Norwegians, Dario and Ray got their adrenaline levels well pushed already before the show. The opening act’s anger and frustration was palpable that night, making for an especially raw and energetic performance, though not their tightest. Baard ripping out his in ear monitoring cable midway through “Rewind” and managing to plug it back in just in time for the next downbreak was worth a special applause. Chris (who has worked for class acts like Shining, The Ocean or Klone) had become comfortable with the band and the sound was perfect and greatly balanced. Indeed, now it became clear that the set up Eirik had decided upon with his Les Paul created an entirely new dimension to the Leprous sound in general, the icing of the cream, if you wish. Ray was really impressed: “I hope that the band will look into experimenting with different guitar tones in the future.”
“Between the Buried and Me is a bit of a hit and miss for me personally”, says Dario. Even though they included a good selection of their back catalogue, they focused more on the melodic side of their music, and they really showed off what an amazing variety in style their music offers. Still, Dario adds, “I definitely respect what they are doing, but I never managed to find a flow in their songwriting, to me it mostly sounds like randomly assembled parts put together. Some of those parts I dig big time, some not so much.” That concerns the compositions of course, not the performance, but ever so often you realize these things at concerts. Add to that, singer Tommy’s clean vocals always seem to be buried in the live mix, so that doesn’t help much either. “But experiencing a concert with people who love them does”, concludes Dario. “And so I did enjoy their set in Munich very much.”
And even more so Devin’s performance, who benefited from the same effect. The Munich audience welcomed the mad professor enthusiastically and the count of up to 9 Ziltoid puppets dancing among the metal horns and flying hair was probably a record for the tour. Devin and his band ran down their gig precisely like a Swiss clockwork again, “but I realized how he assembles his fun talk quite spontaneously and his humor is a real live thing, happening right at the moment”, says Ray. “This one was the only concert I saw that was not way too loud, and still being unimpressed, it was possible to stand apart for a chat with friends.” There were probably almost as many people attending than in Antwerp two weeks earlier, but sound and space were much more pleasant in the Backstage as opposed to the Trix.
Let’s take a little break for a note on a support band’s fate by Ray: “I was impressed for the third time about how many people queued up in time, ready to welcome Leprous. But whoever makes the daily schedules of a tour was against it. The 30 minutes between doors open and Leprous kicking off sure are valuable, but the band barely ever saw half of the audience when they were playing because of the inefficiency at the doors, except for London.” Matt likes to add that in Aarhus as well it was right on time for kick-off, where most of the crowd was clearly there to support them. “That’s not nice for a band that pays not a small fee for every single night to get exposure”, Ray continues.
Some days later, on February 21, a long line was winding through the entrance of Hamburg’s Gruenspan club when Leprous started to play. People were waiting at the cloakroom all through their (way too short!) set. It was clear anyway that most people were there for Devin, but Leprous got their fair share of applause. No wonder: The Norwegians sounded excellent, and everything went tight and smooth. Eirik seemed very comfortable in his position and filled up Øystein’s spot perfectly. Soundwise, BTBAM again were less lucky. The guitars were disappearing behind a loud mix of keyboard and growls – people in the audience described their show as “exhausting”, and Van and Matt felt quite the same.
Devin though, even if not in his best health, delivered. Met by a typical northern German crowd – meaning not overly enthusiastic – he still got them to sing along “Ih-Ah” and got himself into some trouble telling the audience to fuck themselves – which, of course, was meant in the nicest way possible, as he managed to make clear. The quite slim venue was perfect for his wall of sound, and in a very comfortable volume. The audience thanked Devin with more and more participation. “The only thing I didn’t like were the recorded parts, mostly the voice of Anneke van Giersbergen”, says Van – but that’s a small shadow over a musically excellent night.
One night later, in Denmark’s second biggest city, Aarhus, the excellent VoxHall, club was equally full, but with a much more engaged crowd. There were 500 tickets sold on pre-sale, and a lot more people getting tickets at the venue – still, as the place is quite wide, it felt much more spacious than the night before. There is not much more to add to Leprous, they are a well oiled machine and delivered once again with perfect sound, even with guitar player Tor O. being sick. Baard even had some trouble time while fixing his cymbals during the (again too short!) set, but anyway they delivered a perfect show.
BTBAM were much more enjoyable due to a much better sound and a more supportive crowd – “still, I tend to get lost in their songs and don’t yet totally know what to make of them”, says Matt. Devin clearly enjoyed the much more responsive crowd and put down a great show again, still recovering from some digestive problems. Some tea helped, as it seemed. A Ziltoid puppet from the audience made a stage appearance, and the music was just as good as you’d expect from this professional. Overall, the Aarhus show was a much more enjoyable experience than the night before, also because the security was much more relaxed than in Hamburg, where they seemed to take themselves a little too serious not having any respect for photographers.
The last shows of the tour were played in the UK, and while BTBAM were having their own tour through Britain, TesseracT joined Devin and Leprous. Soundwise, for Dario the Birmingham date (March 16) “was the worst out of the four I was lucky enough to witness”. There was something about the venue’s acoustics that seemed to multiply the volume of the sub bass frequencies of Baard’s and especially Ryan van Poederooyen’s (DTP) bass drum that threatened to drown everything else out. The design, the height of the ceiling, the stage dimensions of this old Victorian theater were way too impressive! Leprous guitarist Tor O. later said that he felt like the venue was getting mad at them when playing, with trembling floors and walls, shaken by their metal, and the creepy plaster creatures under the ceiling staring and spitting poison at them. No question, the tour left a mark upon them now, their tightness was gone. “Still a band beyond perfect compared to most other metal bands out there, but it was way too noticeable”, says Ray, and singer Einar expressed it this way: “After six weeks on the road it does become somewhat punk-ish.” TesseracT came out sounding the best, maybe home advantage? They played a concise 45 minutes set, just pure tightness and breathtaking vocal melodies from Daniel Tompkins impressive set of pipes. He added a hand full of harmonic layers to his vocal lines. Technically so brilliant that only he himself can sing them. “As much as I dislike vocals off the track, in this case they brought me to tears!”, admits Ray. TesseracT’s splendid mix of shaking djent grooves and space ambient took the serious drama of the opener to a more esoteric level and thus drew the thing only deeper. Dario’s personal highlight: “Hexes” with its calmer parts and harmonies to die for. On the other hand, Ray thinks that with this before them, the DTP got themselves into the pop-metal drawer now. Mr. Townsend is a great entertainer but his music is just party.
On the next day, the trio moved on to London’s Hammersmith Apollo. The venue looked pretty similar to Birmingham’s, only the sheer size and capacity of the former might be double at the very least, if not triple, or. As Ray puts it: “WOW! just WOW!” Another Victorian Theatre, of insane dimensions, capable of 5000, 4000 sold! And here finally they had enough resources (entrance space, ticket boxes and personnel) to get everybody inside before the first note.
The sound was better as well, though still a little bit muddy. Dario “loved every second of Leprous and TesseracT. Devin Townsend Project playing “Ocean Machine: Biomech” in its entirety was not that much to my liking on the other hand as I’m not too fond and/or familiar of the mad professor’s earlier work”, he says. Ray on the other hand liked that “the ever-too-loud DTP’s show somewhat showed some dynamics. But his fans disliked exactly that…” Impressive nonetheless that the band pulled off a completely different set after being on tour for well over one and a half months. The encore consisting of the best “Transcendence” songs, namely “Failure”, “Stormbending” and “Higher” hit right home again and proved a worthy closing of one of the biggest prog tours on European soil this year.