Words & photos by Ben Gunzburg for EVERYDAY METAL

It’s been a long 4 years since Devin Townsend last graced our shores, armed with only his wit and acoustic guitar. It’s been even longer since he brought a band with him. Tonight, we head to Melbourne’s Forum Theatre to witness the full and sold-out show Hevy Devy experience. We assume his wit also made the flight, too. Bring it on!

Opening the show are Brisbane prog metal heroes Caligula’s Horse, fresh off a busy few months galavanting across the other side of the globe.  Taking to the stage right on time, the band receives a warm welcome from the already 90% full venue as they launch into Slow Violence

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Over the next 40 minutes, Caligula’s Horse show us why they are a force to be reckoned with.  Frontman Jim Grey is commanding, as he ebbs and flows through each song, effortlessly switching from delicate quiet vocal melodies to booming, extended high notes.  Letting the crowd know when he needs us to step things up, there’s a great energy flowing back and forth.  The whole band is a tight unit, rounded out by bassist Dale Prinsse, drummer Josh Griffin and guitarist Sam Vallen.  From solid bass grooves, to pounding drums, to dreamy guitar solos, it’s a nonstop ride of proggy goodness. 

While they have indeed proven to be another successful export of Australian heavy music, we’re shown endless love and appreciation and that they know where their roots are.  As Grey announces a new album release being only a few months away, to a tremendous roar, no less, he emphasises that neither the band’s success nor that of our scene are mutually exclusive, and that together, everyone can grow and help each other along the way.  A beautiful sentiment echoed from the crowd.

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Clearly, Caligula’s Horse has more than a few fans in the crowd, with The Tempest, Bloom and Marigold shining through as particular favourites.  The crowd has certainly been paying attention, too, calling out for the band to play their brand new song Golum, released less than 24 hours prior to the show.  A world exclusive, we lap it up, and if this song is any indication, it’s safe to say things are looking bright for the band’s future.  

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As Dream The Dead brings the set to a close. We’re left satisfied and warm, definitely ready for the main attraction to follow. Merely moments after Caligula’s Horse leave the stage, the already full venue becomes that extra bit more tightly packed, as the crowd collectively shimmies forward a few notches to secure prime position. Not long now.

Devin Townsend and his band arrive on stage after a relatively short wait and after warning us that over the course of the set he’ll be requiring all sorts of crowd interaction nonsense, Devin and friends launch into Lightworker, off Devin’s latest album, Lightwork.  It’s quickly followed up with the now classic Kingdom and on a scale of 1 to 10, the crowd goes apeshit.  Devin has always been one of the most expressive musicians of the modern age, and this song brings it out of him like Bruce Banner turning into The Hulk.  The wild expressions continue into Deadhead soon after, as do the roars of approval.

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There are many different moods on the menu tonight, including self-deprecation, sincere gratitude, as well as some random absurdities thrown in for good measure.  To anyone who’s no stranger to seeing Devin Townsend live, the following three sentences won’t seem out of place at all  in close succession:

“My butthole is a beautiful place right now.”

“I’m a repressed adolescent.”

“You guys showed up so thank you.”

For those witnessing things for the first time, just smile and wave.

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Having previously visited Down Under a few times with his previous band, this tour is our first taste of the new incarnation, featuring drummer Darby Todd, bassist James Leach and Mike Keneally on “everything else”, aka keyboards and guitar.  The band collectively performs like they’ve spent a lifetime by Devin’s side, not just a few short years.  The chemistry between Townsend and Keneally is particularly electric, which shines through in the form of a mid-song guitar and keyboard noodle session during Deep Peace.  Todd’s drumming is impeccable throughout the set, which certainly would put any drummer to the test, Leach nonchalantly chugs and grooves his way through every song, none more impressive than during the epic twisting and turning of By Your Command.

As widely varied as Devin’s entire discography is, he always manages to make it all make sense, no matter what songs sit alongside each other in the set.  Sure, some curation never goes astray, but at a Devin show, going straight from the metal onslaught of Almost Again and Aftermath (two Strapping Young Lad corkers I was very pleasantly surprised to hear) into the theatrical shenanigans of Why? just seems to make sense.  And I must say that being surrounded by metalheads singing and bouncing along like they’re part of a chorus line while Devin dances around the stage holding a large octopus plushie is just wholesome as fuck.  

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And you know what they say:  If someone will shenan once, they’ll shenanigan.  Cue Bad Devil, featuring cowboy hats, more crazy keyboard noodling, and some all-around bloody good vibes.  Throughout all this, Devin’s voice is absolutely immaculate.  Talk about being a talented show-off.  Operatic and delicate one second, maniacally shrieking the next.  It’s one thing to enjoy his range and talent on recording, it’s a whole next level of joy to witness it in the flesh.

With the main set over, Devin pokes fun at encores by telling us we’ve come to the part of the night where they’re contractually obligated to play two more songs, walk off the stage, have us scream, and then return to the stage with looks of surprise that we haven’t yet left.  The impending closure of the night’s performance also causes Devin to muse over the difficulties of trying to comprehensively fit 30 years of material in.  His humour shining through yet again, he assures us “if I missed your song, it’s because I have a vendetta against you, personally.”

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Breaking things up with a solo acoustic version of Ih-Ah, Devin’s delicate side shines through again.  Raw and vulnerable, we’re reminded that we don’t need to be any one thing all the time.  We can go from wild and raucous to calm and gentle, and everything in between, and it can all be beautiful and heartfelt.  And just like that, it’s time for one last song, with the band being invited back on stage to pummel us with the heavy grooves of one more Strapping Young Lad favourite, Love?  An epic ending to an epic night.

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There’s a lot to be said about Devin Townsend, but the big takeaway from the night is that we’re all in it together, he sees us, he loves us, and he appreciates us.  Right back at ya, Devin, and thank you.

Thanks to the Forum Theatre crew for having us and a special thanks to ThePhoenix.au and Maric Media for arranging media access.