SINGAPORE — I went into the Devin Townsend show at the Gateway Theatre on Wednesday (18 September) not knowing what to expect.
I wasn’t sure if “An Evening with Devin Townsend” would be a one-man heavy metal show, a showcase of his solo work (like his recently released Empath album) or an MTV Unplugged-style session featuring his greatest hits.
What it turned out to be, however, was an intimate three-hour session that was part stand-up comedy, part musical performance and part casual interrogation (there were two Q&A segments).
While I suspect some in the crowd were expecting a display of his musical virtuosity or for him to break out songs from his days with Strapping Young Lad (although he did play a version of Love), I don’t think anyone there would have come out of the show claiming they were not entertained.
Things kicked off with a haunting rendition of Funeral from his 1997 solo album Ocean Machine: Biomech. Things loosened up from there as he appeared to ad lib his other songs, often pausing to joke with the audience or mimic other absent instruments.
While he struggled to get his laptop and other gear going during the set’s first half, he still powered through with his charm and confidence – despite claiming that he felt absolutely “naked” on stage.
As a virgin Devin Townsend concert attendee, it gave me goosebumps to hear him bust into his operatic metal screams live. Even though the songs he played were distant renditions of the original material, there were flashes of brilliance throughout the show. I can only hope he returns with a full band someday.
My biggest takeaway for the night, however, was the manner in which he opened up to the audience about nearly every aspect of his life – from his successes and failures as a musician, his family and pets, as well as clarifying a scatological tale involving Steve Vai’s guitar case (you can Google this on your own).
He talked about the loneliness of being an artist; how, as a kid, music was a “loophole” around his family’s loathing for the expression of emotions. He took questions on his recording techniques (hint: he likes his ping-pong delays) and spoke about the phases of his music career (Strapping Young Lad was about “fear” and “anger”; Empath is about having a mid-life crisis).
During and after the show he also took the time speak to – and grab selfies with – all his fans, who seemed to come from a spread of countries, including Holland, Italy and the Philippines. It was easy to why his cult following remains so strong; this guy would be a serious contender for the “Nicest Guy in Metal” award if there was one.
Just as Empath is Townsend’s self-described attempt at exploring a range of styles and evoking a variety of emotions in listeners, Wednesday night’s show was an eclectic yet uplifting affair – just like the song he closed with, Life. I learnt a bit about his music, but I got to know the man himself a lot better.