You haven’t lived until you’ve seen Devin Townsend jamming the tuba with Shining alongside members of DTP and Periphery on additional sax, trombones and, naturally, triangle. That’s how Shining play out a part of their set, kicking the whole thing up a few notches in the process – the energy that it spikes in the crowd is palpable. No one here was expecting such a hilariously entertaining sight when they made their way out of brute force gales into Manchester’s Academy 1. But Shining’s own signature bluster, a cacophony of black metal rage and pure progressive expression, wrapped up in a jazz infused bow, goes down a treat.
The Norwegian band is uniquely eccentric, leaving people to either love them endearingly or hate them dispassionately but, whatever your thoughts; they have been steadily on the rise. With a momentous performance at Bloodstock 2014 and an appearance in this very same venue with Marty Friedman, supporting Arch Enemy and Kreator behind them, they’re beginning to make a serious name for themselves. On a bill such as this – with Periphery and DTP both sharing a kindred barminess that deviates from the more traditional – you feel this is their best moment yet to define who they are to the perfect audience.
They do so with aplomb. Despite mic issues early on, the band rattles the eardrums with spades of groove and a healthy dollop of V8 engine replicating vocals. ‘My Dying Drive’ is rampant, off-kilter and utterly delectable. It’s a menacing song with a driving rhythm, then it drops and all hell breaks loose. They end with the more catchy and accessible but still as mad-as-a-box-of-frogs ‘I Won’t Forget’ before walking off the stage to rapturous cheers.
Periphery’s recently release, the double album Juggernaut Alpha & Omega, may have been more hit and miss than a blind man playing darts, but oddly enough, in the flesh, it’s these songs which are the highlights of a set which seems to fly by. Spencer Sotelo’s softer vocals – one side to his more opposing, full frontal demeanour – get lost in the mix early on.
His performance is less than convincing, a confidence and energy seeming to have been sapped from him. It’s only until they roll out the new songs that things start properly clicking; ‘Psychosphere’ is the musical equivalent of a Rubik’s Cube, all contorting time signatures and scattershot riffs. But underpinned by vocals from Sotelo which are at this point on the ascent, it bewitches the room. ’22 Faces’ and ‘The Bad Thing’ are amass with bursts of groove, melodious, hook-laden vocals and all round revelry. ‘Alpha’ then steals the show – you will hear few songs as fun and bouncy as this in 2015 – before the heavier, less apologetic ‘Graveless’ opens up the circle pit and closes their set in style.
It’s the last night of a tour which, for the past fortnight, has seen Devin Townsend battling with the flu. Nevertheless, spirits are high as he makes his way casually onto the stage. Although he is at this point only addressing the mass of bodies before him to explain his current health issues, and that he may need some help singing at points, he still manages to captivate the room. He is a physical presence, impossible to ignore and equal parts charming, humorous and mad genius.
Then, before all the present, flickering eyes, unravels a set of anarchic beauty. “I’m never gonna out shine Shining or out prog Periphery, but what I have is a good chorus,” Devin had said backstage before the show and that is the weapon, in a vast and multitudinous armoury, that he chooses to arm himself with tonight. From the symphonic prowess of ‘Truth’ and the intergalactic riff monster that is ‘Death Ray’ to the final throes of a bombastic rendition of ‘Kingdom’ he fires those choruses out into the crowd with wild abandon. Moments such as ‘Addicted!’ and the lively ‘March of the Poozers’ raise the roof in the place, flowing into one another; a stream of emotively and passionately executed explosions.
‘Lucky Animals’ is complete with jazz hands from the joyous audience – another stroke of genius from Townsend, it’s all just so fun. Even during the heartfelt and tingling ‘Ih-Ah,’ with lighters held aloft as the Canadian performs solo with a Telecaster, everyone in the place has a smile across their face. Not only is Devin Townsend a damn fine musician and songwriter, he’s also one of the greatest entertainers around, he’s a showman and he does it all with so much ease. He loves his job, despite illness, home sickness and general fatigue he goes out tonight and gives it everything he has. His love for all of this is so translucent you can’t help but be infected by that maniacal grin.
The last notes of ‘Kingdom’ fade, like an army venturing back home over distant hills, when they return; they will be greeted as champions.
Words: Phil WellerPhotos: Anthony Firmin