Devin Townsend @ The Borderline
6th June 2012
Review by Rhiannon Marley
Photography by Jo Blackened
Seriously, how can you introduce Devin Townsend? Multi-instrumentalist? Producer? Legend of rock n’ roll theatrics? Whatever your choice, there’s definitely something other-worldly about him, and tonight we’re in Soho’s Borderline for the first of two ‘sell-out’ unplugged ’dos on his latest venture, for those lucky – or internet-savvy – enough to acquire tickets!
As soon as we arrive we saw the queue snaking down the road, surrounded by fag-ends being crushed by Doc Martens even half an hour before doors open.
With faux-saloon doors amidst a conglomeration of mismatched walls and surveillance cameras, it might look like Clint Eastwood has been let loose with permission planning on the set of Orson Welles’ ‘The Trial, but though unobtrusive, it’s clear that the Borderline stands unquestioned as one of London ’s intimate musical institutions.
I’m a massive Devin fan; the last time I saw him was at the ‘Ki’ gig in 2011 at London’s ULU, the first of four storming album shows across the capital ,but concerning set-list and get-up. I’m not sure what to expect this eve; only yesterday, I was at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, at the screening of Devin’s new DVD, ‘By A Thread’, so I was looking forward to see what was on offer tonight!
Supporting Devin tonight is Danny Cavanagh; frontman of English quintet Anathema, now renowned for their progressive work more than their doom roots.
In light of the success of his solo ventures in 2002, it’s a treat to see him in the same capacity tonight.
Cavanagh’s Mick Hucknall-esque looks direct a presence more ethereal than dynamic. Filigree arpeggios and introspective lyrics of ‘Fragile Dreams’ merge with Iron Maiden classic ‘Wasted Years’, which cuts an unusual shade in muted tones.
I’m in for a dab of energy and some sing-along with Tenacious D’s ‘Tribute’, but the highlight for the impassioned audience is a fantastic surprise for us all, as Danny drags his younger brother Vincent from the crowd to join him onstage for an understated version of ‘Thin Air’.
It feels like organic propriety for the brothers to perform together once more, and I don’t think I’m alone in embracing a little nostalgia here for the original Anathema line-up.
Sweeping vocals and thrums are wrought in intensity, as the Cavanagh boys deliver a beautiful snapshot in Anathema’s back-catalogue, while demonstrating their authority in the art-rock world as rightly unshaken.
Given Devin’s reputation for an ironic, almost parodied slant on the rock world, before he enters the stage we are given a show hysterical Alex Grey’s artwork and oversized shots of Devin’s face in hilarious photoshopped expressions, to the amusement of the crowd tonight!
It is not long until Devin Townsend enters the stage to a massive roar from the fans and tonight it seems he’s opting for a subtler blend of drama, and the animated chatter around me is punctuated by other people’s last accounts of Devin live, his tremendous talent, and what a nice guy he is!
Devin has the knack of making you feel both collective and individual. He scans as many faces as he can, and locks your eyes for long enough to make you silently vie for favouritism, yet momentarily enough to prove that the real magic is in 249 others sharing your sentiment. Eschewing his usual casual slacks and t-shirt for a comely suit, his comedy is right on target, ascending the stage not once, but twice, to feign the egotist.
He kick-starts his (tonight, subdued) metal panto in perfect form, and I crane my neck to see over Ziltoid puppets perched on clamouring mitts near the front.
As everyone shuffles into place with bottles and cups, Devin conducts a relaxed, easygoing vibe.In a largely request-based set, the night offers latitude from his fertile repertoire; the jagged currents of ‘Hyperdrive’ and lilting melodies of ‘Coast’, of DTP birth, converge with Strapping Young Lad’s ‘Satan’s Ice Cream Truck’, alongside anthemic new album cut, ‘Back Where We Belong’.
Whether sporting heavier or lighter origins, each track is stripped to the undisguised formula of one man and his hollow six-string, dipped in just enough reverb to liquefy his mosaic chords, and for his unique vocal tones and falsetto to inflame the nerves and haunt the depths of enraptured listeners.
Talking throughout his set, his commentary was both funny and deeply moving; I found myself laughing with him as he excuses technical imperfections, forgetting lyrics written so long ago and fluffing notes.
Yet my eyes almost go teary as he recounts the tale of inspiration for the track ‘Funeral’, when his friend was killed in an argument over his hat, and when he dedicates songs to his family, telling us how much he misses them.
Experiencing the acoustic rendition of ‘Deadhead’ live fortifies every belief I had about both Devin Townsend, and music full stop: the poetry, skill and passion from his every pore has me melting into my size 7s, and thorny tingles crawling up my arms in epiphanous rapture.
Townsend is known for toying with a cocktail of ambient serenity and instrumental complexity. Yet without the fretboard acrobatics and sedimentary layering of post-production and his signature PXD Peavey, his songs are injected with fresh vitality, and, in sparseness, exposed as evocative tapestries of flavour in all their compositional genius. And as he constantly reiterates gratitude to his fans, humbles himself and shakes hands afterwards.
Devin confirms our hopes. His appeal is steadfast in being a true showman stripped of pretentiousness, whose inaccessibility in stellar musicianship is made accessible through self-effacing aplomb and nuclear charisma.
Tonight, I’ve witnessed something rare, composite in nature, and extraordinary; playing human Tetris to find my place again after each time of heading to the bar pales into triviality. 2011’s ‘Ki’ gig was tranquil sorcery, no doubt, but this first Borderline date is not only one of Townsend’s best performances; it’s one of 2012’s best performances!
Let It Roll
Solar Winds Intro
Noisy Pink Bubbles
Back Where We Belong
Satan’s Ice Cream Truck