Following the release of “Transcendence“ and the parting of ways of the Devin Townsend Project, Finland had a rare more-than-a-year break between Devin Townsend gigs. However, on March 29th, 2019 – the release day for his newest solo album, “Empath“ – Townsend returned to Helsinki for the first of two sold-out shows at Savoy Teatteri.
While Townsend has done many a show in Helsinki in the past decade, one has to appreciate how different they all are from one another. This month-ish long tour promised a more intimate experience with the artist, with an acoustic set followed by some Q&A.
The stage was simply adorned with a chair, two acoustic guitars, and some computers. Townsend took the stage, immediately moving the chair out of the way so he’d have some space to move around. In his usual manner, Townsend chatted with the crowd about how this whole thing was crazy and he had no idea if an acoustic tour would make any sense, and how nervous he was, and started with “Heart Baby.” The already-ambient track was only improved by the “echoing” – as he put it – effects on the guitar, and Townsend appeared to just go into his own world while playing, doing it however he felt was best in the moment. Every little nervous fumble was swiftly corrected with expert ease, and made Townsend seem so funny and relatable. Perhaps it’s that he’s so aware and open about his insecurities, on top of his ability to laugh with himself that makes him seem so effortlessly lovable. He manages to embody all of us in the way he has this quirky little insecurity, or this self-deprecating mannerism, or this hint of arrogance that wants to be denied, and he’s not afraid to admit it to anyone.
The best part of the show, however, was the stories he told and the tangents he went off on. He spoke about how Ziltoid was the angry version of himself that he wanted to disassociate from, and how love and sex are such crazy concepts that are so hard to comprehend. He told the story of how “Funeral” – and “Ocean Machine“ in general – were about him processing the senseless death of a friend. “Ih-Ah!,” he’s told us before, was about a melody that came to him in his sleep and how he had to interpret it from the senseless mumblings he mailed himself on his phone.
After “Ih-Ah!,” he called for some of the questions to be brought down so he could have a rest from singing for a short while. There had been question sheets near the merch stand after the doors opened, where the audience could submit questions for the Q&A. STRAPPING YOUNG LAD fans were given an extremely rare treat in “Love?” in the middle of the first set, and one of the questions had been about whether he had figured love out yet. In response to any question asked – be it about covering a QUEEN song (he wouldn’t), or why he loved the VENGABOYS (he said that hearing “We Like to Party” had brought a tear to his eye) – he always found some relevant story to tell to make the tale fun or sweet or inspirational. No topic was off limits: he talked about why he still thinks farts are funny, and when a guy named Mathias asked if he’d marry him, he spoke honestly about some of his quirks and why Mathias would better off marrying the guy next to him. The final question was about whether fans would be hearing anything off “Ki” (and another album I didn’t catch) in the future, and answered yes, before starting “Coast.”
He then spoke a bit about his love of musicals before doing a rendition of Claude-Michel Schönberg‘s “Bring Him Home” – a song I am sadly not familiar with – and then played “Life.” Among the many funny moments of the night was when he tried to get the crowd to sing the first part of the chorus… but the crowd was in “polite-venue” mode and stayed respectfully silent. After a good laugh between Townsend and the crowd, the audience realized that it was okay and began singing aloud.
There was an intermission at this point, and the attendees had been able to preorder a snack and drink, which were waiting in the restaurant area of the venue. That was a nice touch! The Q&A continued after this, with questions about recording and how he had never wanted to be a singer. Naturally, these included a lot of anecdotes, stories, and hypotheticals, like how if he had unlimited resources to do anything – not only would he complete his symphony – he would go to his friend’s serene lakeside zen space and make a dog appear in the water in front of him for a few moments one day, and then disappear, never to be seen again.
After the final question of the Q&A, he gave a heartfelt thank-you to the crowd for letting him do what he does, and the crowd cheered him back for an encore. With only 2 minutes left, he decided to improvise a song, which someone in the crowd named “Helsinki,” and we were given a little insight into his creative world. Townsend began to just get into the flow and mood, forgot anyone was around him, and ended up creating a beautiful little piece of music that – by the end – he said he might end up saving. Who knows, perhaps one day we’ll hear “Helsinki” again?
I’ve seen a lot of different Devin shows in the past few years, from white suits to straight-up metal, tag-teams with Anneke van Giersbergen, and I even made the trip to Plovdiv to hear “Ocean Machine“ in the ancient Roman theater. With those all under my belt, I hope you understand what I mean when I say that this show was something really special. Townsend welcomed the crowd into his world and just talked, unabashedly and unashamedly about life and who he is and how he perceives the world, and how that affects his creative processes, and it was a beautiful insight into a beautiful mind. If I had unlimited means, I might find my way to every one of these shows so I could see what kind of unique and wonderful experience it would be each night. If there are still opportunities to see one of these sets, I highly recommend you take them!
1. Heart Baby
2. Let it Roll
4. Solar Winds
10. Thing Beyond Things
11. Bring Him Home (Claude-Michel Schönberg)
13. Helsinki (encore)
Written by Bear Wiseman