5th June 2012, By Rhiannon Marley
Tonight, I was at the Prince Charles Cinemin Leicester Square to watch the first screening of Devin Townsend’s latest release, ‘By a Thread’! It’s a delicious compilation of his 4 sell-out gigs in 2011, each showcasing one of the full Devin Townsend Project albums. Despite the pouring rain, the underground picture-house was stuffed to burst. Squeezing in, I noticed a couple of guys at the back were selling the box-sets at the screen entrance, and Devin himself strolled through in signature good humour to sign them, parting bodies Moses-style! As the musical goodies depleted like iced buns, fans twined up the stairs, queuing for photos with Devin. I could see everything from thumbs-up and mandatory devil-horns to full-on gurning and face contortions on request for those once-in-a-blue-moon snapshots with the cult icon! But Townsend’s warmth was unrivalled. He welcomed his worshippers, evoking a proud father, and our rapport with his character made his legendary presence even more dazzling.
We piled through the cinema doors, presenting tickets, gathering booze and settling into seats, and the sharp-suited Canadian took the stage. Even those unfamiliar with him would have fallen in love! Modest and comical, he disarmed his reluctant rock-star reputation with layman banter. Introducing the event, thanking everyone for being there and recalling the four separate gigs from last year, I thought how touching it was to see Townsend reinforce the bond between him and those who aspire to him with such care. He revealed how much he personally gained from those nights back in 2011, and acknowledged the love he continues to receive from his ever-strong cult. Though a sell-out artist, internationally-acclaimed musician, producer and poster-boy for intelligent rock n’ roll, he insisted that “It’s just all of us sitting here for four hours watching something we’ve all seen before”; his talent never fails to submit to humility. But for the record, I don’t agree with the unkind fan who told you that you look like a sad gym sock, Devin!
By A Thread, a nine-disc set of both visual and audio recordings from each consecutive gig, was supposed to have been played in chronological order tonight. But anyone who’s ever been to a Devin gig or event will know his lack of affinity with strict organisation! There were more than a few technical hitches, because the DVDs are recorded as a 5-bit mix, while the Prince Charles isn’t a 5-bit capacity. Instead of being played back-to-back as planned, the night turned into a hilarious wheelhouse of requests from the movie, with Devin providing live commentary to excuse the glitches like a Bingo announcer over the top! He nervously stalked the aisles, trying to make everything perfect and fretting that it was de-railing left-of-centre, and spied my notebook and pen in the back row. Leaning over my shoulder and joking in my ear that I was to write that the night “was super-professional and that everyone had a great time,” he induced as many shivers as giggles. Not only is it impossible to argue if Devin Townsend personally choreographs your article about him; he seemed unaware that it was the imperfections that were making the night such fun!
The DVDs themselves were stunning. Atmospheric slow-motion, images of nature blended with stage-shots, and multiple merged stills of a hallucinatory effect perfectly captured the ambience of the ‘Ki’ and ‘Ghost’ albums, while intensified strobe-light hues, shots of urban explosions and jagged camera movements harnessed the aggressive energy and industrial brutality of ‘Addicted’ and ‘Deconstruction’. And who could miss the enormous fibreglass cheeseburger onstage? Or all the Ziltoid t-shirts, puppets and balloons: a cute teal-faced and snaggle-toothed epidemic, spread throughout the crowd? It wasn’t just a recording of each gig, as I’d expected; there were interviews with crew and techies about gear and production, chats with musicians from the band about instruments and songs, and of course, myriad words of wisdom from Hevy Devy himself.
Facial photos of Devin, pensive to mid-scream, from different angles and overlaid with graphics and effects, provided an enigmatic catalogue of the man behind the music onscreen. But the real treat was what he said through the mic over the movie. He told little stories of each gig and the creation of each album, chuckled that his guest singer on the Addicted album is “so much better than me”, and even started harmonising live to Coast! Yet his live narrative was also tinged with poignancy; without getting morbid, I felt it was only a few eerie shades short of the DTP spectre passing remark over its swan song. Ever-gracious, Devin’s constant gratitude and hospitality once again displayed his fantastic personality, and testified his capabilities not just as a man of music, but as an all-round entertainer. A truly awesome night. For a unique, dynamic portrait of one of ambient metal’s most interesting and creative totems, check out ‘By a Thread’, available online and in stores now. That thread will take you on one hell of a ride!