Devin Townsend’s ‘Greatest Sets Of My Life’ at the Royal Albert Hall

Devin’s beautiful face in front of the Royal Albert Hall organ

So here I am! Back in the UK after flying back from Prognosis festival the night before, and I’m here to see… Oh. Leprous again. How bout that… But also the ever so wonderful Devin Townsend on night 2 of 2 of his headline shows at the Royal Albert Hall, covering rare tracks from throughout his prolific career. The first night covered his most ‘popular’ tracks.

After Devin’s initial plans to play his as of yet to be released ‘Lightwork’ album got postponed, although he did say on the night that he has now finished mixing ‘Lightwork’ which means it might now be on it’s way to use very soon… This delay did mean that the sets got re-dubbed from being about ‘Lightwork’ to covering ‘The Greatest Sets Of My Life’. Art takes time, and that’s okay. If it’s anything like the scale and density of ‘Empath’, there’s no doubt it’s going to be worth waiting for.

Einar commands the stage with Leprous

Leprous were the support band tonight, and they played some highlights from their headline show the previous night, plus some additional banging singles. Having two tracks from ‘The Congregation’, ‘Slave’ and ‘The Price’ made my day, because I really really love that album. They absolutely took the spotlight with their stage presence and light show, particularly so for “just” being the support act. Einar noted that the band never thought they’d play this venue, so it was a very special show for them too.

Now for those not in the UK, and not in the know about this wonderful venue, the Royal Albert Hall is an incredibly prestigious place with a long history. Usually, it hosts orchestral and choral performances (particularly so from the BBC proms, which is where I’ve been at the venue the most). It’s now over 150 years old, and has hosted artists all the way from Sergei Rachmaninoff, Barry White, Steven Wilson, and even Meshuggah this coming June.

Seeing a heavy metal show in this venue is such an oddly satisfying experience, knowing that when it was built such a genre hadn’t even been thought of. The world hadn’t even seen jazz yet! On this evening, Devin described the Royal Albert Hall as a living and breathing entity during his set, and I think that’s very apt.

Devin screaming his harsh vocals directly into the microphone

Devin came to stage, starting with ‘Seventh Wave’ – a huge track to start with. Darby Todd was really getting into the music from the get-go, jiving around the drum kit, however, the other musicians were a bit more… stationary. We ran through some DTP songs, ‘Stormbending’, ‘Higher’, and ‘Coast – which was a nicer softer song to continue with before getting heavier once again at the end.

‘Bad Devil’ was when the moshing started, but it never managed to take off into a full-blown pit during the evening. So sadly I didn’t manage to check off “mosh pit in the Royal Albert Hall” off of my bucket list, but it did feel far more appropriate to stand and take in the set given the set focused on more emotive tracks in Devin’s discography that he was playing this evening.

During ‘War’, Devin mentioned that “we’d have a choir and orchestra if it weren’t so expensive but we don’t, so suck it, and suck it some more!” – which is possibly the most Devin sentence ever. It did feel a tad disappointing that these shows were advertised beforehand as ‘The Greatest Sets Of My Life’ – and given Devin’s reputation on his 2019 tour, and his previous shows at the Royal Albert Hall, this did feel like a bit of a letdown. No stage decorations, with only three session musicians on the stage that didn’t know the material well enough to have fun with it, or get in any choreography. In fact, it was even mentioned that on stage some of the tracks were being played without any rehearsal, which to the band’s credit is incredibly impressive given the lack of bum notes.

Devin Townsend at the Astra Kulturhaus in Berlin

The whole evening felt incredibly bare-bones compared to what it could have been, but alas, how much does that matter? This goes for a lot of artists in this post-pandemic world – touring is more expensive than ever. To pay upfront all of the costs for a huge live show to happen on an entirely different continent, and for that to potentially get taken away from you because a member of your entourage ends up with a covid infection, can be financially crippling. Devin should know, given his US tour got canceled only a couple of dates in right at the start of the pandemic – and there’s no way he didn’t end up with a huge unpaid bill on his plate because of it.

So whilst a grand show would have been great, particularly so with how much the tickets were, and how the title of the weekend shows were marketed as being “The Greatest”… I still find myself thankful that the show happened at all. I still had a lot of fun, and so did the audience. And I know Devin will be back bigger and better as soon as he possibly can because it’s in his DNA.

Devin chose ‘Dynamics’ as the next track, a number which has been rarely seen at his live shows up until this point which was a fantastic one to catch live. And then we went back again to the ‘Ocean Machine’ record, a popular choice for the evening, and had ‘Funeral’, another fantastic song. Devin noted that he was up until 4.30am recording backing vocals for this one for the live playback. You can’t deny he’s a man of dedication.

‘The Death of Music’ was absolutely incredible to witness live. Such an emotive song in the studio version and hearing Devin’s lustful vocals covering this track in person was absolutely magical. Especially watching that larynx move up close and personal for that final scream. NNYEEEAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!

And of course, Devin finished with ‘Grace’, obviously as a homage to yours truly. Although it is slightly ironic that this is one of the few areas of Devin’s mega discography that I have a blind spot over. Time for some post-gig listening… And it’s also worth noting that this was also the only song where the bass and guitar players actually changed position on stage and stood still in a slightly different location, so technically it was the most collectively energetic performance of the night.

I’ve seen Devin do better, and I’m certain he will do better again in the future, and while this show was slightly disappointing given the hype and marketing that surrounded it, it was still a fantastic setlist, and a nice well earned ‘toe-dip into the pool’ to work out how viable touring is for Devin in this post-covid world.

Devin and the band taking their bows

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