Another year, another Devin Townsend show. It seems like mere months ago (well, it was mere months ago) that An Evening with Devin Townsend was in Helsinki and he’s already back. To tell the truth, we’re not sure why Dev is still playing at The Circus since he seems to be selling out his shows with shocking regularity. I know plenty of people personally who were left without a ticket, so hopefully we up him to a bigger venue next time he’s in town. November 22nd, 2019, brought his Empath Tour back to Helsinki in support of his new solo album of the same name, alongside the prog masters of Haken.
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Find both bands sets as a playlist on Spotify:
As many of the staff are Haken and/or Townsend fans, we had a fairly large crew present. Haken was clearly popular among the attendees because, as their set began, the venue filled up. Much to the chagrin of many, the queue to get into the venue was still all the way across the square to the Kamppi doors as Haken took the stage at 19:45, meaning there were a lot of guests who missed a lot of the show. The ambient prog was strong and melodic right off the bat, though the quality felt a bit murky. Their set opened with two songs from their 2018 release, Vector: “Puzzle Box” and “A Cell Divides.”
After two songs, vocalist Ross Jennings greeted the crowd as “Haken from the UK.” He said that the last time Haken had toured through Finland they had been very well treated and thanked everyone for coming early to catch their set. While I’m not personally familiar with many of their songs by name, it wasn’t hard to appreciate the different stylistic nods, with a capella and bee-bop moments, robotic singing, and such beautiful, laid-back sound as to easily sink into and enjoy. As a prog band, they only played six songs in their set, half of which were new material and the other half was older hits, including “Earthrise and “Cockroach King.”
The stage energy nicely matched what the songs needed; they were neither too peppy nor completely dreary. It was just what a good prog band needed to be: technically skilled but not mechanical. Keyboardist Diego Tejeida came out with a keytar for the synth part of “1985” to have a little time in the limelight and the great bass sound got every fist up in the air. “1985” was, of course, the one song that I recognized, with its strong vocals and bass/guitar melodies. It also acted as the closer to their short set and they left us wanting more than the handful of songs we got, having delivered such a smooth and enjoyable show.
1. Puzzle Box
2. A Cell Divides
4. Nil by Mouth
5. Cockroach King
Devin Townsend‘s slot was set to start at 21:00 and there wasn’t a single person who was surprised by a strange intro song to start up the show. We hadn’t looked up the band prior to the event and were thus very intrigued to find an interesting collection of musicians and singers: Diego Tejeida [Haken] on keyboards, Mike Keneally [Frank Zappa] and Markus Reuter [Stick Men] on guitars, Morgen Agren [Kaipa] on drums, Empath bassist Nathan Navarro, and Ché Aimee Dorval [Casualties of Cool] also on vocals. “Diego Tejeida” was written on the backing screen in skyscraper light as he appeared first on stage to mix himself a drink behind the keyboards. The full band came out on stage revealing the theme of the evening to be “tropical getaway” via their tropical-patterned shirts and skirts.
Of course the crowd went bananas when Devin Townsend took the stage. His mic took a moment to start up as he claimed to have seen snow outside (despite the crowd’s insistence that the day hadn’t been a snowy day). Nevertheless, he promised to take us on a vacation to get away from the bullshit and reset. They started things off with “Borderlands,” with its incessantly catchy bass line and slow, relaxed feel. The song easily got the crowd’s arms up and waving back and forth to the groove.
The first few tracks of the night were all new material, like “Evermore” and “Sprite,” with the exception of “War” from Infinity (1998). An ambient guitar interlude played as what I can only refer to as a “drum/cajon” was brought out for Agren to use for “Coast.” They played a very long ambient intro with a lot of crowd screaming during the slower more melodic parts, as well as when Townsend went to cuddle his percussionist.
The fuzzy drum box was taken away as a close-up of a black cat’s face woke up the crowd for “Gato” and afterwards Townsend swapped to bass for a while. There was a lot of happy murmuring in the audience about the inclusion of so much material from Ki (2009), and this wasn’t the end of it, as “Heaven Send” and “Ain’t Never Gonna Win” were played afterwards.
If there’s one consistent song that’s been played at every Townsend show I’ve been to, it’s “Deadhead” from the Devin Townsend Band’s Accelerated Evolution (2003). “Deadhead” is likewise a surefire way to get a roar out of the crowd. The first hint as to the identity of the next song came in the form of Dorval’s change into a pink tutu, followed by the appearance of… well, Townsend in a black tutu, naturally. This was one if the few songs that featured the backing singers and Townsend fully stopped everything just to get the crowd to sing a few words as well. And yes, also he hit that great falsetto note.
Among the many rambling speeches, Townsend gave his thanks to the musicians, crew, and the audience themselves, talked about being a man in a tutu, and asked for choral assistance due to “singing his nuts off” during “Deadhead” and “Why?” The crowd already knew that “jazz hands” meant “Lucky Animals” was coming up and it seems there were a lot of Townsend-live veterans as he noted that the crowd knew what to do pretty much right away. He rambled on more about life being brutal, asked who had to work tomorrow, and also shared thoughts on aging throughout the evening.
The whole team fully sang the “Castaways” intro for “Genesis,” which was a fun and entirely different experience live vs on the album. The crowd’s energy certainly helped out, mixing with the insanity of “Genesis. The show wound down with a nice acoustic rendition of “Spirits Will Collide” featuring Dorval and the backing vocalists under dramatic lighting as the last track. The crowd wasn’t going to let them get away so easily though and called them back for three more songs. The first was a cover of the disco classic originally done by The Trampps, “Disco Infero,” which also featured Dorval on lead vocals. Her jazzy take was superb and it was one of the highlights of the night. They closed up with two more Townsend-live classics, an acoustic version of “Ih Ah” and, of course, everyone’s heavy favorite, “Kingdom.”
7. Heaven Send
8. Ain’t Never Gonna Win
11. Lucky Animals
14. Spirits Will Collide (acoustic)
15. Disco Inferno (Trampps cover)
16. Ih Ah (acoustic)
It’s fairly safe to say that if you like what Devin Townsend’s got going on in his recent releases, you’ll likely get a kick out of his live shows. While there have been few consistent factors in his shows over the years, that’s part of what brings the joy to his performances; each is a different experience. With an excellent of opener in Haken to get people ready for a night of prog, there wasn’t much to complain about except the somewhat mediocre sound quality. Perhaps one might nitpick the lack of variety in the songs included in the album but I, for one, think it was clever of him to sneak a 10-year-anniversary set for the first Devin Townsend Project album into his tour. Ultimately, it was a fun and goofy night for fans of all things Devin! Oh, and a quick final shout-out to the merch stand with the wheel! A lot of the crowd had played this game and were very happy with the prizes they won! Way to keep things interesting!
Noteworthy though was that Townsend has been selling out his shows in Helsinki the last few times lately. His fandom in Finland grows with every release and we really and truly hope to find him at a bigger venue next time, as the concert-goers missed out on part of their night because the venue couldn’t handle it.
Photos: Jana Blomqvist