Devin Townsend Project @ Fowler’s Live, Adelaide, (16/03/10)

With the release of Addicted late last year, the Devin Townsend Project arrived at the midway point of an ambitious undertaking to produce four albums in four different styles with four different line-ups. On a slightly warmer than expected Tuesday evening at Fowler’s Live, the group appeared in front of a cauldron of sweaty black t-shirts to showcase some of the ear bending material from this release. There were also copious helpings of industrial noise from Townsend’s enormous back catalogue, delicate virtuoso moments of beauty and more than a few interruptions by some chap named Ziltoid.

Melbourne metallers Contrive were first to arrive onstage to get heads moving in the appropriate headbanging direction. Singer Paul Haug externalised The Internal Dialogue while identical twin Andrew pounded the skins with a ferocious precision. Tim Stahlmann’s five string bass was barely audible but was probably tipping the kids off their skateboards at the skate park across the road.

Then it was Ziltoid’s turn. While the road crew set about putting up flags and tearing down drum kits, the omniscient one from Townsend’s 2007 solo album took over the house PA and mercilessly tormented the crowd of black-clad metal heads with bubblegum tracks like Aqua’s dance-pop ditty Barbie Girl.

This strange interlude increased the crowd’s relief when cue-ball Canadian Townsend leapt onto the stage to heartily exclaim, ‘eat shit!’ before tearing into a blazing rendition of the title track from the new album.

Townsend is an enormous onstage presence, overcoming a slight resemblance to veteran thespian John Malkovich with a series of facial expressions that give the impression of a chap who has just had his foot run over by a car and has somehow slightly enjoyed it. His constant banter was hilarious and he spent most of the night teetering on the edge of the stage in a sea of raised fists. His incredible fretwork was matched, and at times surpassed, by his phenomenal vocal range.

The crowd was totally committed to the whole deal. For most songs it only took a couple of notes to provoke headbanging sneers of recognition, and the devil’s horns were produced en-masse. For much of the evening the entire room was a bouncing mess of hair, sweat and black cotton, with Hevy Devy even briefly diving offstage to join the fun.

Townsend showed genuine class as he cleverly sidestepped the false drama of the encore by declaring a short break and promising a return. His subsequent fretwork was absolutely astounding, a vivid reminder that this guy once slung a guitar in the presence of Steve Vai.

Though Vai’s Boy Genius has subsequently matured into quite the madman, the Devin Townsend Project is an absolutely incredible show. Take any opportunity you get to catch this guy, he has the music in him and isn’t afraid to let it come pouring out. Incredible.