Tue. Dec 1st, 2020

21.11.19. Haken & Devin Townsend @ The Circus, Helsinki

DEVIN TOWNSEND is certainly one of the most prolific musicians in the current prog scene. The Canadian artist has explored pretty much every possible musical style with his countless projects, and he surprised us earlier this year with the release of the brilliant “Empath”, his first solo effort in five years. The release of the album worked as the next step in his career after disbanding DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT last year. Devin seems to be highly popular in Finland, a country he often visits while on tour, so tickets sold out fairly quickly after the gig in Helsinki was announced. Before entering The Circus, we came across a very long queue of fans waiting to get in the venue, so by the time the opening act started many were still standing outside in the dark and cold. Check out the photo gallery here.

The band in charge of heating up the house was no other than HAKEN, one of the finest British prog exports of the century. The Brits are currently touring with their excellent 2018 release “Vector”, and their 45-minute set was mostly based on songs from this album, which feature a more modern sound compared to their earlier releases. “Puzzle Box” was a great opener, confirming how tight the members of the band can perform live regardless how complex their songs are. From the same album we got to hear the dramatic “A Cells Divides”, with its memorable vocal line. Ross Jennings was flawless in lead vocals and so were the backing vocalists. “Earthrise” added some balance to the mix with its lighthearted melodies, YES-infused twists and excellent tapping solos by guitarist Richard Henshall.  

Jennings leaves the stage while the band performs “Nil by Mouth”, a heavy and dense instrumental piece where each member of the band gets their moment to shine, showcasing their great musicianship and skills in a playful, jazzy piece. Ross talks briefly to the audience, guessing some of us don’t know them very well, so he invites us to listen to their ‘greatest hit’. They deliver an impressive rendition of the catchy “Cockroach King”, taken from “The Mountain”. This song has all the ingredients to become a classic in the catalog: fun vocal harmonies, interesting progressions and juicy instrumental interludes. They strike one last time with “1985”, a nostalgic track featuring plenty of 80’s sounds including electronic drums and kick-ass keytar solos. The audience is very receptive, and the Brits leave the stage with a loud ovation.

A bit before showtime, we start to hear some Hawaiian music at the background and the stage is being built in front of us. Palm trees are brought on stage, people walk around wearing floral prints, and we feel like we’ve been transported to Bikini Bottom. The band steps in one by one until they are joined by Devin himself and people go bananas. Devin’s stage charisma is undeniable, no matter how much of a shy person he seems to be when he’s not in the spotlight. The show starts with the feel-good “Borderlands”, building the atmosphere for two hours where we will forget all the BS in the world. “Evermore” is another of the key-tracks from “Empath”, a musical roller-coaster performed with great energy. The current line-up sounds very tight and they seem to be having a great time on stage.

“War” adds a bouncy feeling to the party with its boogie vibe and excellent co-lead vocals by the charming Ché Aimee Dorval. Devin confesses that he is happily confused, and goes full fairytale with “Sprite”, a fantastic piece containing great backing vocal arrangements and sophisticated interludes. Most of the band leaves the stage and a small drum kit is built in the front of the stage for Devin to jam with the talented Morgen Agren. It’s time to change gear, clothes and mood before they perform a series of tracks taken from DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT’s album “Ki”. The chilled-out and beautiful “Coast” is followed by “Gato”, “Heaven Send” and “Ain’t Never Gonna Win”, which in the end felt a bit repetitive if it wasn’t for the great instrumental jams and jokes in between.

When Devin announces “Deadhead” and starts playing the opening guitar riff, we soon realize that this is clearly a fan favorite based on the reaction by the audience, which wakes up everyone immediately. This epic track works very well in the live situation, featuring his trademark “wall of sound”. The girls come back to the stage wearing cute dresses and Devin joins them with a black ballet tutu, revealing his very unsexy pale legs. You’ve got to love this guy’s sense of humor. They perform the corky “Why”, taking us back to fairyland and featuring great operatic vocals by a Devin who shows no signs of decay. For the next track, “Lucky Animals”, he asks the audience to support him with hands in the air and backing vocals, and of course we all obey the master.

Townsend invites his backing vocalists to join him in the dreamy chant that is “Castaway”. I would have assumed that they’d play it from a backing track but I’m glad they did it live. And then the madness is unleashed with the exquisitely crafted “Genesis”, an eclectic track that resumes the best ingredients of “Empath”, including kitties and ATARI sounds. Pure genius. Devin gives a heartfelt speech about going through depression and delivers a touching acoustic version of “Spirits will Collide”, joined once more by the quartet of girls. But let’s not forget that we came here to party, so they set the house on fire with “Disco Inferno”, a cover of the legendary 70’s disco anthem by THE TRAMMPS. The grand finale comes with “Kingdom”, and intricate and intense track from “Physicist” performed with a great momentum.

Once more, The Circus hosted a great evening for progheads in Helsinki. The house was full, and the spirits were high throughout the night. Devin loves Finland and Finland loves Devin, so I’m sure he’ll be back. In just a few hours we got to experience all kinds of sounds in a night full of virtuosity and creativity by both DEVIN TOWNSEND and the promising HAKEN. It was my first time to see both bands live, and I was very impressed by the intensity and craft of their shows. HAKEN’s set felt a bit short for all the great songs they have and Devin has such a long catalog that it’s almost impossible to cover it in only two hours, so I’m looking forward to catch them again on the road in their next tours with new, exciting music.

Article written by David Araneda
Photos by Laureline Tilkin

SETLIST

  1. Borderlands
  2. Evermore
  3. War
  4. Sprite
  5. Coast
  6. Gato
  7. Heaven Send
  8. Ain’t Never Gonna Win
  9. Deadhead
  10. Why?
  11. Lucky Animals
  12. Castaway
  13. Genesis
  14. Spirits Will Collide (acoustic)
  15. Disco Inferno (The Trammps cover)
  16. Kingdom

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