On stage tonight...
Tonight, Devin Townsend bought his 'Casualties of Cool' side project to London for their first 'proper' gig. This was my first visit to the Union Chapel, having sadly missed out on Dev's 4-night residency in 2011 celebrating his 4-album 'Devin Townsend Project'. If you get the chance to visit, do! It's a stunning venue, and it's vast octagonal chamber is perfectly suited to music.
The show started with a well-suited opening set from Messenger, with their down-tempo Pink Floyd-esque prog covering a similar feel to the most recent Opeth albums.After a little technical difficulty, Casualties of Cool finally came on as a seven piece band, looking slightly cramped around the beautifully carved stone pulpit filling the centre of the Chapel's stage. The band consisted of Devin and his writing, singing and guitar-playing partner Che-Aimee Dorval out front; to the left, the electronics of longtime collaborators Mike St-Jean's (I think) laptop and Dave Young's keyboards; to the right, the rhythm section of drummer Morgan Ågren, and a bass player and acoustic guitarist whose names I missed.
Only three "thank yous"
With the guitar tech struggling to coax a sound from Dev's staple Fractal Axe-FX II, the man himself was forced onto stage in a slightly less than ideal way - placating the patient crowd with his useful goofy banter before finding the mute button or whatever had caused the problem. After a little giddiness, the promise was made to keep stage chatter to a minimum - something that obviously came as a genuine struggle to a man who's a consummate crowd-pleasing performer known for his witty quips and humour. Besides a little comedy gurning during a couple of the guitar solos (but never at the expense of the music) little was said - a wise move that allowed the music to take centre stage as it flowed from one song to the next.
The set consisted entirely of songs from the Pledge-funded debut album. Although there were extended, semi-improvised introductions to some songs and a couple of jams, the show never felt too thin, despite the limited material of the new band being spread over 75 minutes (no encore).
Che-Aimee's obvious nervousness failed to show in her voice - her beautiful alto tones as crystalline as on record. Once a little more settled, she even started dancing a little, before self-conciousness dragged her firmly back to focussing on the music - a sweet and genuine performance amongst today's 'born for the stage' identifit wannabes...
The swirling ambience of the music transported the crowd into a forest clearing; the eight great stone pillars of the Chapel like huge tree trunks amongst the sound of crickets accompanying a number of the songs. Devin looked surprisingly comfortable alternating between a Strat and a Tele - unusual for a man famed for his EMG-driven metal. In fact, it was difficult to imagine this is the same guy that wrote 'Skeksis' and 'Oh My Fucking God', but it was a delight to see his obvious enjoyment experimenting with single coil sounds - evoking shades of David Gilmour on more than one occasion.
Whilst the whole band were extremely competent, special mentions have to go to Dave and Morgen. Dave Young, as in his role for DTP, never sought the limelight, yet acted as a perfect foil with his understated keyboard lines and string pads filling the space while never getting in the way of the stripped down songs. Morgen showed what drumming is all about - a simple kit bought to life with clever techniques and an amazing ability to stretch rhythms to add tension or ease the mood as required, not to mention a dextrous display of polyrhythm, with at least three limbs emulating the winding down of a clock to dramatic effect.
Let's have some more
It's not a surprise that a Dev-fronted band was an entertaining watch. However, this particular group showed themselves to be a great lineup. There was barely a hiccup all evening - amazing given how little these guys have played live together. It would be a real shame if there was not the opportunity to see this band, and hear this music again. Whether it was the magnificent venue, the reverential crowd, or just that rare magic spark that just happens sometimes, the songs really came alive, escaping the slightly claustrophobic feel of the record to really fill the space. Perhaps the only thing I'd wish for next time is a choir to bring the climax of 'The Bridge' to even more goose-pimple inducing proportions!