Devin Townsend is one of the most unique and vastly talented musicians in music today. His career spans almost 30 years and has produced 25 albums under different banners including Strapping Young Lad and two different projects under his own name. To have your career start off on a Steve Vai record (Sex and Religion) playing guitar and lead vocals, speaks volumes on his talent and creativity. Fast forward to 2020, Devin’s latest album Empath was released a year ago this month and the fans here at Plaza Live are ready to see this mad genius at work.
As the house lights are still on, the crowd notices Devin and company off the side of the stage and immediately erupt with applause. The band navigates to their respected positions through the maze of stuffed animals on stage, Devin addresses the crowd by bringing out a stuffed animal a fan gave him but little did he know, there were more stuffies in the crowd that wanted attention. It didn’t take long for the bear, duck and the Narwhal from ELF to travel through the air and find their place on the stage. It is explained that guitar tech Martyn Evans would be residing on the couch on stage, as he recovered from the illness that had plagued most of the band and crew.
After Devin runs over a stuffie to Martyn on the recovery couch, the band go into the angelic yet heavy hitting “Evermore”, giving singer/guitar player Che’ Aimee Dorval as we as Devin to show off their vocal range as well as the head banging anthem “March of the Poozers” from 2007’s Ziltoid the Omniscient. Following the song, the burning question in everyones mind was finally answered, what is going on with all the stuffed animals. Aside from his many talents, Devin Townsend also has a heart of gold. The band didn’t have the budget for a big stage setup, so they buy the stuffed animals to put around the stage and then after the show, they donate all the toys to local charities for children.
After the acoustic fan favorite “Ih-Ah” an impromptu jam session unfolds, bringing the amazingly talented drummer Morgan Agren out from behind his impressive drum kit that would give Neal Peart’s a run for it’s money, to a kit more fitting for a virtuoso 5 year old. But that does not phase this accomplished drummer in the least. As he lays down a beat that would challenge most seasoned percussionists on what can only be described as 4 piece kindergarten project, Devin takes the band into the darker southern swing of “Forgive Me’. Che’ once again let’s her angelic vocals take lead to her male backups.
Previous to the start of “Why” Che’ emerges from backstage sporting a fluffy white lace dress and a black laced skirt in hand for her lead singer to don. Once Devin lays eyes on his new stage attire, he wastes no time and immediately drops trowel, rolls on the ground with some stuffies and slaps on that skirt without missing a beat. When he gets himself together, he personally invites a handful of kids up on stage and lets them pick whatever they stuffed animal they want. The smiles on these kids faces were beyond contagious as some picked ones there were even bigger than they were. More importantly, Mr. Narwhal found a good home.
As the last of the kids are helped off stage, Townsend begins to say “Ya know, in a world with hate, I’m only trying to fill the world with…” the crowd instantly goes insane knowing what was about to play next. I am not going to lie, I too was really *!#$ing excited because I haven’t seen this next song played live since Ozzfest 06′. The only song to go back to the Strapping Young Lad era was the brutal hit “Love?”. It is physically impossible to not tap, air drum, head bang or fist pound to this rhythmic freight train.
There were certainly a couple things about this show that were a first for me in one way or another, so why would the encores be any different. After what technically was the end of their set, Devin basically calls out exactly what every other band does at the end of a show (pre encore), and also how many encore songs will be played, even asking to have the stage lights turned off and wanting to crowd to pretend to call them back on stage. As they “come back on stage”, Morgan kicks off the beat to which I thought “Oh shit, they’re gonna cover Billie Jean!”, but in reality it was the upbeat hit “Heavens End” with absolutely zero complaints by the way.
To wrap up this absolutely entertaining and unique show and to send these crazed fans home with a proper smile on their faces, Devin Townsend would drop the double bass and triplet picking infused epic “Kingdom”. This is just a song that takes on a whole other life when you see it played live. You can feel the drums and guitars throughout your whole body and the different vocal layers is nothing short of incredible. I say this with total honesty, there are not many songs this powerful in all of metal.
Covering this show made me forget from time to time that this was a show of a major tour with world class musicians on the stage. It felt more like I was at a friends show or some local gig with just how laid back and care free it all felt. Everyone in the band and even the crew all have this free spirit about them that makes them all somewhat more relatable to us common folk. There were so many unique elements to this show that for the life of me, I can not compare to another and it was truly a breath of fresh air in the life of live shows. Devin Townsend is as genuine as they come and has continuously constructed music on another level and Empath is no exception. My hats off to him and this band of extremely talented musicians for putting on a show that I will personally remember for a very long time.
The Empath Volume 1 Tour marches on across the country until March 25th, so make sure you get tickets while they last as well as VIP tickets to shows in your area. For all music, merch and tour info head over to Devin Townsend’s site at hevydevy.com.