Oct 292012

(UK-based NCS writer Andy Synn delivers these thoughts on “The Retinal Circus”, Devin Townsend’s tour de force show on October 27 at the Roundhouse in London, with video clips at the end — including a high-quality stream of the entire show.)

Steve Vai. Metaphysical musings. Harold. A gospel choir. Anneke Van Giersbergen. A white suit and top hat. Sexy cat-people. Angry monkey men. Religion, War. Flame-throwers and angle grinders. Ziltoid. The 6th Dimensional Planet Smasher (and his hot slave girl).  Mrs Ziltoid. Giant green vaginas. Baby Ziltoid!!! Vampires, drink, and drugs. Clown-midgets. Aliens!!!

[Takes a breath]

Unexpected acoustic ballads. Shameless hippy sing-alongs. Lighters in the air, arms-waving stadium-rock. Steve Vai’s abusive, talking skull. Jed Motherfucking Simon. STRAPPING YOUNG LAD.

Cherry blossom trees and proposals of marriage. Life. A wedding soundtracked by an utterly stunning rendition of “Kingdom”. Devin’s inner demons. Aerial acrobatics. Love? Fan-waving and pole dancers. Torrents of confetti. Going from Heavy to Big. Glorious “Grace”. A down-home finale with couches, bearded ladies, and a miniature marching band like some sort of off-the-wall take on the end of Lord of The Rings.

That was The Retinal Circus.

The set-list for the evening was designed around the 4th wall breaking meta-narrative Devin (looking dapper in a stunning white suit and top-hat combination) had designed, telling his story through the medium of “Harold” and his life, his dreams and fears, and the philosophical angst of his everyday existence. As such it varied wildly, covering all eras of his career. And, of course, the sheer length and breadth of that career meant there simply wasn’t room for every song you might have wanted to hear.

Not everything worked perfectly, but to dwell on these minor imperfections would be churlish in the extreme – the show was so utterly bizarre, so brilliantly ambitious and multi-faceted (both sonically and visually), that certain aspects were always going to fall short – but that’s what happens when you take the risk and aim at genius. Mad genius yes, but genius all the same.

At times Devin himself seemed to lose the plot a little, when getting worked up and involved with conversations with a pre-recorded Steve Vai (or his abusive Skully alter-ego), or even a giant floating head version of his own ‘dark side’. At times the whole concept of the show/story was seemingly abandoned for a diversion into something thematically different and off the wall, but ultimately the whole story, the whole journey, was wrapped up with great aplomb.

Musical highlights were the beautiful opening of “True North”, a devastating “Planet Smasher”, and an electrifying rendition of “Vampira”. An unexpected and heartfelt acoustic rendition of “Hyperdrive” led into a brilliant run of songs, from the always beautiful “Ih-Ah!” followed by the new classic “Where We Belong”.

The unexpected arrival of the legendary Jed Simon signalled something we never thought would happen… a temporary return to the era of Strapping Young Lad, a rendition of “Detox” turning the whole standing area into a mass of flying bodies. Jed stuck around for a three-guitar attack on “Bend It Like Bender!”, and returned later on for a crushing run-through of “Love?” (Ryan Van Poederooyen showing he’s more than capable of filling Gene Hoglan’s shoes).

“Life” was just as life-affirming and perfectly played as always, including the world’s shittest guitar solo, while “Kingdom” was stunning – massive and overpowering from start to finish.  “Wild Colonial Boy” was a big surprise, and led perfectly into the massive finale of “Grace”, bringing every single aspect of the show together for one climactic finale.

The stage was quickly re-set to resemble (roughly) someone’s lounge (complete with couches, xbox, and front-door), with almost the entire cast taking the stage to participate in an uber-rare rendition of “Little Pig”, as a perfect coda for the night’s technicolour chaos. Somehow, against all the odds, Devin and his comrades pulled off this mad, lunatic event, something that could have crashed and burned due to the sheer weight of ambition and expectations, juggling the sights and sounds and sheer wtf moments with dizzying energy and life.

For one night, this truly was the greatest show on earth.
The set ran thusly:

True north
Lucky animals
Planet of the apes
Planet Smasher
Colour Your World
The Greys

(15 minute intermission)
Hyperdrive! (acoustic)
Where We Belong
Bend It Like Bender
Wild Colonial Boy
Little Pig


  1. this day is getting better an better!!!!!

  2. Baby Ziltoid? ( ; n ; ) Dammit, One needs to get this DVD next year.
    ““Life” was just as life-affirming and perfectly played as always, including the world’s shittest guitar solo…” – lolwut?

  3. man, ever since Devin stopped taking drugs he’s just gotten crazier. What a concert! Would have loved to be there for Detox, one of my favourite SYL tracks. “Hey, you know! – Hey, you know!”

    On another note, those scantily-clad people climbing pieces of fabric on the first photo remind me of seeing Tool on the Lateralus tour and they had these two people (man and woman) suspended naked performing acrobatics choreographed to the music.

    • He hasn’t gotten crazier, he is just no longer high out of his mind, so now he can actually be motivated to do things like this and by a thread.

    • Its “Hey you mo! hey you mo” Sorry to be the pedantic internet guy haha 😛

      • I hope the SYL stuff doesn’t overshadow the rest of the show. It WAS pretty special, but so were huge swathes of the rest of the night.

        Still buzzing off “Grace” in fact.

      • really? ah well, I’ll add that to the old ‘list of mis-heard song lyrics’ faux pas.

  4. I’d have given my left nut to be at this show, but no one wanted it. I couldn’t even catch the live webcast. I hope the wait for the DVD won’t be too ridiculously long.

    • Unlike that Dimmu dvd, which I have seemingly been waiting forever for.

      Still, I bet there’s TONS of stuff I forgot to mention in my review. There was just SO much going on. Every song had at least 1/2 “WTF??” moments.

  5. Was at the show. Gutted he completely neglected Terria and played so much from his most recent album and Ziltoid. He says he doesn’t play SYL because it isn’t real for him to play it anymore, but Ziltoid is an album that sounds like it was written and recorded in 2 days! Punky Bruster has better songs

    But can’t complain about the show, just really pissed so much of it was his new stuff when all we heard building up to it was how it was his entire career

    • and I just want to say I’ve been listening to dev since the mid 90’s, when I first saw him I never imagined I’d see him do a show like this! But jesus christ, NO TERRIA!!!!

    • Crap. One only noticed it when you pointed it out. Nothing from One’s favorite Devin Townsend solo album… 🙁

      • In fairness, it wasn’t an album-by-album retrospective, more of a ‘headspace’ retrospective.

        Plus there was a (vague) story to fit it all around!

        • to be fair, that’s exactly what it was billed as – a celebration of his whole career. Just one song from terria would have been nice, instead of 5 or 6 from his latest album – that song about the apes and the animals song are dreadful IMO!

          For me, this was where the show came up short

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