Progressive metal enthusiasts unite! With Heavy Devy in town & superb support in Haken and The Contortionist, things were bound to get weird & groovy at Théâtre Corona. The energy was palpable. Stuffed animals were in sight. Heavy metal denizens and prog rock addicts packed the venue awaiting a delightful night of groovy tunes, Yes-inspired madness, and a performance from the enigmatic genius himself, Devin Townsend.
First up on the bill was The Contortionist, an American progressive metal band from Indianapolis. Treading waters between unorthodox melodies and deathcore, the group has made quite an impact in the underground with their innovative music. Taking a business-like approach throughout their set, The Contortionist warmed up the crowd with an eclectic set. Their performance contained a buffet of poly-rhythmic cadences, silky smooth jazz influences, and a ferocious serving of aggression. Underlying the music was an atmosphere of melancholy and sorrow, with the vibrancy of the music juxtaposed by the dim lighting on stage. Songs like “Clairvoyant,” “Language II: Conspire,” and “Return to Earth” contained enough tempo changes to satisfy the prog fan within, enhanced by animated vocals and groovy riffs.
Up next was the English-based Haken, a band that I had recently rediscovered after the desire arose to listen to their 2016 classic, Affinity. Launching into their setlist with “Puzzle Box,” Haken tore through their performance with a dazzling display of skill and energy. Adorning their performance was a psychedelic light show inducing a hypnotic trance, keeping up with the flow of the out-of-this-world compositions and serving as a brief reprieve from the sporadic aggression. “Nil by Mouth” was by far the most dynamic and multifaceted song of the night, featuring virtuoso-like performances from everyone in the band throughout the seven-minute instrumental. Long-time hit “Cockroach King” lightened things up before lead singer Ross Jennings adorned himself with trippy green shades to close the set with the retro-inspired “1985.”
As for the main event…what else can I say? There are a select few musicians that can capture the undivided attention of the entire audience for a whole set. The colorful Devin Townsend falls into that upper echelon of entertainers, creating an intimate atmosphere for his uniquely crazy brand of music.
Enlisting a collection of supremely talented musicians, Townsend seemed the most motivated and rejuvenated he has been in years. Adoring the stage with the first two stuffed animals to become part of a traveling repertoire, the theme of animals was prevalent throughout the venue. Yours truly acquired one of the zany shirts from the merch booth, featuring a feline astronaut in space. While there were some hiccups along the way, they were mostly rooted in Townsend’s desire to improvise and test new concepts out. Fortunately, the authenticity of the performance made the night more special than the myriad of manufactured concerts that stroll through Montreal.
Kicking off with “Evermore,” the supremely diverse setlist included a whole slew of classics from different Townsend eras, including “Deadhead,” “Hyperdrive!” “Heaven Send,” and “Supercrush!” “Heaven Send” was especially mesmerizing, as each musician took the opportunity to amaze the crowd with a series of tantalizing solos. As a result, the performance morphed a fantastic song into an elevated jam session, giving the audience something unique. For fans of Strapping Young Lad, “Love?” did make its way into the set, with legendary guitarist Mike Keneally learning the riffs on the spot and not missing a beat in the process.
Throughout the set, Devin’s quirky personality shined through, regularly communicating with the crowd and warning us that this was an experimental show. His casual demeanor once again endeared himself to the raucous Montreal crowed, which hung on his every word. In fact, one of the more amusing moments of the night included Townsend stating, “someone’s armpits smell like yak’s balls.” The last quarter of the set featured Townsend wearing a tutu for the virtual serenade, “Why?” right before the band tore through the instant classic on Empath, “Genesis.” There was no time for the usual fake encore shenanigans, as the group ran through “Ih-ah!” and “Kingdom” to end the show on a high note.
With this being the first show on the tour (and the first of two sold-out shows in Montreal), all three bands executed their setlists to perfection, keeping the crowd engaged the whole way through. Devin Townsend is an incredible performer deserving of the praise and respect he garners, continuously evolving his craft both in the studio and on stage. If you ever have a chance to see Devin Townsend and pass it up, you’re bound to miss on a unique once in a lifetime event.
Written by Jonathan Berthold
Photography by Mihaela Petrescu
*edited by Dominic Abate