Devin Townsend at the Astra Kulturhaus in Berlin
Devin Townsend has spring-boarded out on tour with his latest release ‘Empath’. He’s constructed a supergroup of talent to support him on the European leg for ‘Empath Volume 1’. Devin has plans to split his tour into four volumes, all with different accompanying bands focused on different parts and styles found on the album, and in his wider discography.
Without further or do, here are the featuring cast accompanying Devin on the first part of this epic touring journey:
- Mike Keneally, the co-producer of Devin’s latest record ‘Empath’ playing guitar and keyboard.
- Diego Tejeida, known from Haken as well as Mike Portnoy’s Shattered Fortress was on synths.
- Anne Preis, Samantha Preis, and Arabella Packford made up the accompanying choir.
- Nathan Navarro was on bass and spends most of his professional life as a session musician.
- Markus Reuter on Touch Guitar, an instrument that he has worked on creating himself. He’s usually found composing contemporary classical music.
- Ché Aimme Dorval, the other half of one of Devin’s side projects ‘Casualties of Cool’ was the lead female vocalist. She also features as additional vocals on ‘Empath’.
- Morgan Ågren, played drums for ‘Casualties of Cool’ as well as previously playing with Frank Zappa. He also played on a number of tracks for ‘Empath’.
However, before we could even get on to hear all of these wonderful musicians play with Devin, Haken were up first performing a short set. Diego really had his work cut out as he’s featured in both bands, whilst also being in charge of the drinks! More on that later…
Having only ever seen Haken headline before (four times…), I was a little sad that we only got a short burst of their music as opposed to the longer sets I’m used to hearing from them. But it was a treat nonetheless. This time around, I paid particular attention to Ross Jennings (lead vocals) whose dancing skills seem to improve on every tour. His sunglasses for Haken’s hit track ‘1985’ also got an upgrade. Maybe they’ll have to start calling the track ‘1995’…
Haken played mostly new material from their most recent two albums ‘Vector’ and ‘Affinity’ with only one track off of ‘The Mountain’.
In-between sets, the stage was garnished with tropical attire by the crew which reflects the tropical themes found on ‘Empath’.
The show started with Diego making and serving up some vodka based cocktails whilst the band were introduced one by one coming on the stage. Every member adorned in horrific Hawaiian shirts and skirts, it seemed as if we’d all just joined in a Luau.
However this was not the case, as the band came through with a strong start to the evening by playing ‘Borderlands’, a very demanding track from ‘Empath’. The band pulled it off fantastically, getting in many of the discreet musical garnishes inside of Devin’s original mix. The band didn’t use any backing tracks on this tour and relied solely on the musicians on stage to cover everything from soundscapes to choral backing vocals that are found all over Devin’s discography.
In-between tracks Devin had a lot to say about the quality of the toilet paper in Germany, and also dedicated a song to people that were “growers, not showers” as he identified himself as a part of that same tribe. Never change Devin.
As we moved through the set, the band played tracks from ‘Ki’, ‘Epicloud’, and ‘Accelerated Evolution’. We also had a short interim pause for some ambient improvisations. Diego played a drone, Morgan had a mini drum kit set up at the front of the stage, and Devin made love to the wah pedal with his foot.
I always enjoy Devin’s array of facial expressions. I’m never quite sure if his eyeballs are about to fly out of his skull into the audience. Thankfully, they’re still firmly in place for future shows.
We had a couple more tracks from Empath; ‘Castaway’, ‘Genesis’, and an acoustic rendition of ‘Spirits Will Collide’, before moving onto the encore set.
While the band were off-stage, I took a minute to reflect on the level of professionalism and talent from the musicians on this tour. Guitars, bass, chapman stick, drums, synthesizers, a miniature choir, two lead vocalists, all crafted together to create the luscious textures found in Devin’s songwriting really made for an outstanding evening. And in-between all of the playing, there was costume change like no other to match the mood for every song. From hawaiian shirts and elegant ball gowns, tutus and wigs, the entire band and crew were getting in on the fun.
The encore started with a cover of the legendary track ‘Disco Inferno’ by The Trammps. Ché absolutely killed it on vocals, and even though this German audience didn’t seem to appreciate disco, I thoroughly enjoyed it.
They then moved into with some Frank Zappa, which is likely a nod towards Morgan and Mike both working with Zappa back in the day. We then heard ‘Kingdom’ as the finale. And what a finale it was.
Devin has almost reach the same levels of goofiness and cheese that we’ve seen in the past from his work with his old friend Ziltoid the Omniscient. It was an absolute pleasure seeing Devin share his music with us with an amazing set of accompanying musicians. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what comes of the follow-up Volumes of the ‘Empath’ tour cycle.