Going to a concert is always exciting, isn’t it? You’re in the same physical space as the architect of your most favourable spatial vibrations. You’re on the same emotional plane as the soul that first conceived that combination of musical frequencies to reflect a particular experience. They bleed these emotions from musical and electronic instruments through multiple strategically placed speakers, into a dark, barely-ventilated, cramped hall on Mt Eden Rd with a bar, and a surprisingly well maintained toilet.
Progressive rock, progressive metal -or simply, prog- covers a lot of ground for the specialised sub-genre of its parent rock and metal music genres it is. It’s the pinnacle of musical complexity, highly technical delivery by extremely proficient musicians, while the music is still listenable, and has a small but extremely loyal, yet highly opinionated fanbase.
A proud member of this fanbase, I arrived at Auckland’s Powerstation on a Thursday night to see the Devin Townshend Project with sleepmakeswaves as supporting act.
sleepmakeswaves is a four-piece, post-rock, instrumental act based out of Sydney. Since their unexpectedly popular demo in 2007, they’ve carved their mark on the hearts of prog fans globally, supporting their favourite metal and progressive acts the whole while.
They promptly took the stage 30 minutes after the doors opened- a welcome departure from the typical, pointless, hour-long wait at metal gigs. The 60 minute set consisted of their typical moderately paced, easy-listening yet energetically soul-lifting musical masterpieces. The songs tend to have a constantly evolving structure, with underlying motifs setting the pace and having that consistency for human minds to hold on to, lest their psyche gets blasted into the otherwise unreachable regions of the known universe sleepmakeswaves takes a listener to.
Introducing the last song, Alex Wilson (bass/synth/electronics) mentioned how sleepmakeswaves “aren’t about just creating music, they’re about creating a journey”. And I felt that was a very apt summary of the performance.
Devin Townshend has been writing, recording, producing and performing various shades of prog for a very long time. He made his big break when he appeared on guitar virtuoso Steve Vai‘s 1993 classic Sex and Religion– a revolutionary album on its own. The bar was set high from the beginning, and it has stayed there across Devin’s numerous solo, collaborative and guest efforts.
If sleepmakeswaves was the journey, Devin Townshend Project (DTP) was the destination. The Ziltoid intro track cut abruptly. “Hi my name is Devin and I am not jetlagged!”, he screamed in his distinctive Canadian accent as the band ripped into Rejoice.
Devin’s music is grandiose, complex, feels less like instruments playing in conjunction with each other, and more like aural paintbrushes swishing across a musical canvass creating a vast soundscape. Mind you, I’m aware this is not typically how one would describe metal, especially when it’s played in the low, rumbling recesses of Open-C and Open-B tuning (relatively very low pitched guitars and bass, for those not familiar with stringed instruments in metal).
Devin was one of the first to embrace electronic sounds in a musical space typically inhabited by aggressive growling vocals, and blistering guitar solos. That’s not to say he isn’t extremely comfortable with healthy doses of the traditional elements. With a vocal range spanning over 5 octaves, he exhibits a highly respectable level of control at every note across it! His vocals entreat you to a smorgasbord of styles from clean passages to those angry trademark growls and screams, and all the way back to falsetto even!
As the band played through songs from Devin’s numerous projects -“Here’s another song from over 30 records, because we’re old”, he seemed to possess an endless supply of energy, and a level of “only partially crippling” self-awareness to match. Perhaps the jetlag was causing this “moose riding”, fellow commonwealth citizen to speak his thoughts out loud. But it kept the momentum up in between tracks.
The steady stream of comments about the not-so-steady flow of phlegm stuck in his throat stopped when Devin blew his nose on stage. He didn’t even apologise for it, which I felt was very un-Canadian of him, but I let it pass. I’ll also let “something, something, lyrics” pass. The man’s verbal menu for a given night can be extremely intellectually demanding, so guys, give him a break!
He had it all, man… heavy, angry, ‘I want to punch something’ tunes, to slow groovy lines, and love songs – when the audience was asked to get their lighters out- and a treat from the fan favourite Ziltoid concept album.
Devin blatantly mocked the pointlessness of an ‘encore’: pointed out that he’ll do one anyway, so we can all have a pretend last song. Because the band needs to go away for a disguised 5 minute break, while the audience screams for more as the band, “desperate for the audience’s validation” picks up their energy levels, as their sense of self worth rises just enough to bring them back to the stage for another 3 songs.
The show concluded with Higher from DTP‘s Transcendence.Devin engaged the audience with the classic “YEAH!” three times, as he slung his guitar aside and beckoned the que with large movements of his right hand across the stage. I had just witnessed a prodigy, a genius, and a true rockstar.
As if the intense musical experience wasn’t enough, Devin Townshend‘s parting advice was equally profound: “Drink plenty of water, call your folks, work hard and have a good week”! Not your typical metal show huh?
I’m glad DTP performed in Auckland “just as a rehearsal for subsequent Australian shows”, so for those of you across the ditch, don’t miss out, this is worth paying for!
Where We Belong
Ziltoid Goes Home
March Of The Poozers