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If indeed the pathway between reality and perception is a bridge, like so many Romantic-era poets would have us fooled to believe, then Devin Townsend is the troll that guards that bridge. Twinkly-eyed and clutching a Framus Mayfield Custom in place of an alpenstock, he stood dutifully on the stage of The Palace Theatre, ready to chaperone just under 2000 of us across that rickety overpass and into the Technicolor dreamscape no amount of acid could ever prepare you for.
Of course these days the man himself looks far less like a troll than he once did. Gone are the cascading strands that once hung from the edges of his mighty cranium, descending into gold-tinged dreadlocks. Nowadays he looks downright conservative. He was clad in a pinstripe suit, with the sleeves of the jacket rolled up to the elbow and an indelible smile across his face.
The man and the project that bears his name – made up of Brian Waddell on bass, Ryan Van Poederooyen on drums and Dave Young on guitar – launched their sensory assault with Truth, off Townsend’s purgative 1998 solo album Infinity. It was accompanied in quick succession by Regulator, Christeen and Save Our Now, each paired with barrages of symbols and images projected onto the screen behind the band. A warm and soothing feeling was beginning to creep throughout the crowd – disassociation, it’s called – turning The Palace Theatre into a kaleidoscopic mazescape.
“Alright, enough of this pussy ****!” Townsend proclaimed. “We’re a versatile bunch, disposable in some ways, awkward in others. Hey! Check this out…do you want More!?” Shepherding us into what he labeled the “antagonistic part of the set”, Townsend and his comrades fired off More!, Addicted, Disruptr and War. The band broke for a moment for Townsend to impart some crucial information. “We’re from Canada, eh!” A wail rung out from the crowd. “We’re part of the Commonwealth, eh!”
And then, it appeared. The omniscient one: Ziltoid. A toad-eyed snake puppet with catfish whiskers, wrapped in an elaborate cape. It materialised behind the band and challenged our beloved “bald-headed freak” to a guitar contest. It was Townsend’s “poopy balls” pitted against the puppet’s “batwing-sized sack”, as Ziltoid called it. Both emerged victorious, with Townsend opting to ignore the competition (he was winning anyway) and engage the great Ziltoid in collaboration, asking the demented Jim Henson nightmare how one plays Planet Smasher.
We had well and truly crossed over by the time the band had all joined in on Ziltoid’s riff, and images of the MKUltra Project – footage of lab equipment perched precariously over sugar cubes and newspaper clippings expressing shock-horror at the CIA giving US and Canadian citizens LSD – flashed on the screen with an uncanny motion, like a parlour zoopraxiscope.
“Alright, this is the part of the show where we do our fake walk-off and come back for the encore,” he said. “We’re gonna walk off and you’re gonna start to call us back. We did it last time we were in Melbourne and we’re gonna do it this time except this time we’re gonna come up with a new name for you to call out, alright?” the crowd cheered in agreement. “We want you to call out: Kings of the Wind!”
The crowd followed his instructions to the letter and Townsend soon emerged from behind an almost cartoonishly-sized amplifier that resembled a giant flat-screen television. He expressed mock surprise at the crowd’s adoration, before getting serious for the band’s transformation into a country band with the song Heatwave. Following through with Lucky Animals, Townsend demanded “jazz hands” from the crowd, before Vampira collided with the increasingly altered state of the crowd’s consciousness.
Finishing off with Deep Peace, Townsend thanked the woozy-headed crowd for “inviting” he and his band to come play, before appealing to the crowd to “have a great week and take care of each other”. Townsend then walked from one end of the crowd to the other, sharing a round of applause with the front rows and waving goodbye and he disappeared backstage. There’s no other way to describe it. It was Devin Townsend-ian.
(Photograph by Anwar Rizk)