DEVIN TOWNSEND @ Freo.Social gets 9.5/10

An Evening with Devin Townsend
@ Freo.Social
Sunday, September 15, 2019


It’s not every day that fans are treated to a personal insight into the thoughts and inner-workings of their favourite artists. Devin Townsend invited Australian fans to an intimate evening with him, and boy, did he ever lay himself bare and “let his balls hang out for all to see”. From candid conversations about why he moves on from projects such as Strapping Young Lad and The Devin Townsend Project, how he uses his music to cope and come to terms with himself, admitting that he uses humour as a defence mechanism, to why he created Ziltoid the Omniscient as an alter ego, and whether Steve Vai likes poop (nope), Townsend held nothing back – all the while serenading the keen Sunday evening audience at Freo.Social with nothing but that incredible voice, his acoustic guitar and a stunning, reimagined setlist spanning his career – from Strapping Young Lad to his latest solo album, Empath.

Freo.Social was the right choice of venue, fostering the perfect intimate “evening with…” vibe that you need for an up-close and personal acoustic gig. Townsend wandered out to massive applause, looking sheepish and much less in-your-face than he is with a full band. He stood there, tuning his guitar on stage, being silly and making everyone laugh. Gone was his usual black getup, instead he was dressed super casually and comfortably, and it added to the feeling of intimacy… like we were in his lounge. He crawled right under the skin of the Perth crowd immediately, announcing matter-of-factly, “Everyone I’ve met here are cool. As a city, you’re fortunate to have this place. That’s my assessment.” He admitted he forgot his setlist and would just wing it. The anticipation in the room was palpable, the atmosphere magical.

Kicking off with Funeral, it was clear we were in for a treat. The sound quality was top notch and Townsend himself clear as a bell. No one made a sound in the audience as everyone bathed in the almost religious experience that it is to witness someone with the musical talent of an artist like Devin Townsend. Second up, he gifted the crowd one of his most popular songs ever, Deadhead. An incredibly beautiful and moving track already, acoustically it was just ridiculous. There were tears. Stripped of everything else, Townsend’s insane vocal range just hits you in the feels, going from the most delicate notes to that signature Townsend shriek and back again with an ease that almost makes you sick.

Going from sad to melancholy in the first couple of songs, for the third Townsend exclaimed “Let’s be happy!” and launched into Ih-Ah!. Even though this song is astonishingly beautiful and sincere, Townsend did not miss the opportunity when someone in the crowd kept talking, changing the lyrics to “I’m so in love with you… the guy who keeps talking, I’m so in love with you!”. All while licking his finger and rubbing his nipple, winking, and not missing a note on the guitar, of course. Townsend was as good as ever at taking you on this crazy rollercoaster ride up and down the emotional spectrum, moving you to tears in one moment, then lightening the mood and making you crack up the next (probably with toilet humour or jokes about boobies), those tears still in your eyes.

A highlight of the evening was definitely his reinvention of Love?, originally a Strapping Young Lad song, and so normally heavy as a… really heavy thing! Hearing it acoustically was surreal and gave a new meaning to a song that most in the audience would have known very well. It was theatrical and sinister, almost spooky. This made sense later as Townsend explained during the Q&A that for years he saw Strapping Young Lad as a part of his musical journey that he wanted to push aside, as it was borne out of him trying to deal with the post-traumatic stress of his childhood, which he only came to understand in hindsight but for many years felt abhorred by.

Throughout the set, Townsend included lots of random little interludes, almost like he was distracting himself on purpose… and it felt like perhaps this was his attempt to give his biggest fans a glimpse into how his unique mind works. He’d rapidly change direction, chattering to himself quickly in a stream of consciousness style, picking furiously and impressively at his guitar before re-entering into wherever in the song he had departed from. Despite Empath being his latest record, it took him five tracks before he played a song from it. The crowd were absolutely stoked when he announced he was playing Why? after explaining that to him, Empath was a “shitshow” and his version of a midlife crisis. Lucky for us! Next was Hyperdrive which he explained was “about having kids cos that’s fucking crazy” after informing us that another name for a g-string is a “turd cutter.” Yep, standard DT!

It’s difficult not to talk about every song on the setlist, but for the sake of brevity, along with Deadhead and Love?, Coast and Terminal from Ki were standouts, and “a happy little ditty” from Ocean Machine, final track Life was a perfect way to round out a perfect night, and moving enough to recall the tears. The Q&A part of the show was a wonderful touch. He patiently sat and answered every question that had been written down by punters during two different sections of the show. Mostly quite serious or technical, questions ranged from asking about the gear he was using that night, which he answered with great joy, admitting that he loves gear, to questions around why he broke up the Devin Townsend Project and Strapping Young Lad. It was incredible to hear him talking so candidly about how he has always used music to come to terms with himself during different phases of his life, and wonderful to get a glimpse into the mind of this introspective, musical genius. He opened up so honestly about such personal things, it almost feels wrong to write about. The night felt like an invitation to get close to Devin Townsend and those fans that took him up on that offer were gifted with a rare glimpse into an extraordinary artist that felt like a heartfelt “thank you” from Townsend to his fans. A sensational evening that will no doubt be a cherished memory for everyone who attended.


Photos by Karen Lowe

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