REVIEW: DEVIN TOWNSEND – “Devolution Series #1 – Acoustically Inclined, Live in Leeds”
One of the major casualties of this pandemic has been the live music industry. It has financially devastated not only the artists, but the roadies, sound and lighting crews, and companies that function to provide transportation, and itineraries for musicians around the world. For bands not able to tour, releasing online quarantine shows, or another live material has been their only way to connect with their audience, and make a few bucks. Prog metal mastermind Devin Townsend has been no exception, having done multiple one-off solo quarantine shows for charity. However his label is also releasing ‘Devolution Series #1 – Acoustically Inclined, Live in Leeds’ as a holdover before his next major release. The show was originally a bonus disk on the ‘Empath Ultimate Edition’ but is now presented on its own.
Around the time ‘Empath’ was released Devin did a brief fully solo tour with just him and an acoustic guitar. This recording comes from one of those intimate nights. The idea is indeed appealing and listening to this recording, it is obvious that both Dev, and the audience had a great time. The reality however is that such things work well in a live and close setting, but they often don’t work nearly as well as a simple audio release with no visuals. Such is the case with this live release.
I love live albums, I’ve covered Devin’s past two live DVD releases, so enjoying a live recording is hardly new to me. The problem is, this type of show is so intimate, and so intertwined with being there, that a cold listen doesn’t begin to work nearly as well.
This is not to say the entire show is a dud. After a rather long intro as Devin gets his guitar tuned he breaks into “Let It Roll” from the vastly underappreciated ‘Synchestra’ album. As it was originally an acoustic song, it obviously works quite well. In a similar war more recent songs have long been given the acoustic treatment, “Ih-Ah,” and “Hyperdrive” have both appeared on earlier DVDs in this format. And they are exquisitely beautiful in their execution. Even some heavier songs, such as the classic “Funeral” works very well in the stripped-down treatment.
Unfortunately, most of the rest of the show is a mixed bag. Devin is one of the funniest frontmen in the business, and he certainly plays that side of him during the show. But without the visuals, or being there, much of it falls flat. He reaches back in time to perform the Strapping Young Lad standard “Love?” which normally would bring the house down. However, this heavy, angry song doesn’t work at all acoustically. And you can hear him milk the fun and humor of the song with his voice, but not watching him do it, it just sounds awkward. Even the masterful “Deadhead,” which like many fans is one of my favorite songs, falls flat performed without the weight and power of a full band.
Listening through this album, which is essentially a bonus disk being (excellently) remixed, I can’t help but think of the shows that were played. I have no doubt that even the lesser songs would shine while standing in a small club a few feet from the stage. Devin’s live charisma is second to none, and I would gladly go to a show such as this. But in this setting, it just doesn’t work well, and it is clear why it was a bonus disk.
Devin Townsend is for good reason one of the most popular, and loved musicians in the metal world today. His fan base is rabid and has frequently shown its willingness to follow him anywhere he wants to go. ‘Devolution Series #1 – Acoustically Inclined, Live in Leeds’ is therefore meant to hold us over until his next release. Unfortunately, it should have stayed as the bonus disk it was originally meant to be. Despite occasional glimpses of sublime beauty, the whole experience is underwhelming in every other way. For completists only.