Live Review: DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT, BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME, & FALLUJAH Bring Prog To Northern California
The evening kicked off with a pretty solid set from the Bay Area progressive death metal folks in Fallujah. Other than vocalist Alex Hofmann's set-long battle with the blue stage lights that were blinding him while making the band appear to be "The Blue Man Group" as he put it and occasional bass feedback, the set was stellar. Unsurprisingly, there was a fair balance of material from The Flesh Prevails and Dreamless, and as a fan of those albums I wasn’t upset at all. A few songs even featured guest vocals from Tori Letzler who appears on Dreamless. I saw Fallujah on their recent tour with The Black Dahlia Murder, and that was also enjoyable, but this performance was propelled by the voice of Letzer. She gave their music the depth and dynamics that their albums have which frankly was missing on the Dahlia tour. Their performances of "The Void Alone" and "Alone With You" were exactly what I was hoping for when I heard she was on a short run of shows with them. If she became a permanent fixture of live performances, I'd be good with that.
Next up was Between The Buried And Me. The crowd around me in San Francisco didn't seem that into their set. Sacramento certainly was more so, but this was nowhere near the chaos and excitement of previous headline sets from BtBaM I witnessed at Ace of Spades. Both shows featured a fair about of audience heckling, which was weird. In San Francisco I overheard "You better Play White Walls!" and a simple aggressive request for "Ad a dglgmut!" Neither heckler got the memo that they were only playing Coma Ecliptic, I guess. In Sacramento someone yelled "Play something heavy," and Tommy actually responded that they band would play 30 seconds of proper death metal. Then while Dustie preceded to throw out some cliche death metal riffing, Blake came from behind the drums to the edge of the stage to ask a person on the barricade who they texting and gave them a talking to. It's safe to assume they were probably on their phone for the whole set. Overall, it was a strange audience vs band experience both nights. There still was a majority of people having a good time, but those complaining people were not something I experienced before in a BtBaM set, and were super distracting. So fuck those people.
The set itself was hard to be upset about, but hard to fall in love with. First off, I love Coma Ecliptic. It was one of my favorite records from last year. The singles, "Memory Palace," "Famine Wolf," and "Coma Machine," got a lot of love. However, during "Turn on the Darkness," and “Dim Ignition” it was kind of dead. Both sets did make me love of "King Redeem/Queen Serene" more. It was a favorite of the record, and seeing it pulled off so well live gives me hope to see it in a future sets.
I must say though (and this feeling extents to the record also) that I feel like Coma Ecliptic set ended in a weird way. The albums Colors, The Great Misdirect, and The Parallax II: Future Sequence all end with a lengthy track that gives a real sense of story closure and finality (technically The Parallax II ends with a massive track + outro, but meh). I respect BtBaM for straying from this for a Coma, because while those three albums are all great, formula is something a progressive band should avoid (I suppose one could argue that the "Coma Machine">"Option Oblivion">"Life In Velvet" combo could serve as that conclusion I hope for, but it just doesn't for me). When they played the whole The Parallax: Hypersleep Dialogues EP, there was half a set more. When they played all of Colors they did an entire second set. The Parallax II live had one extra song as an encore. I know I JUST praised them for shaking up a formula, but "White Walls" or "Selkies: The Endless Obsession," while both obvious, would have been a nice cherry on the set. I just wound up feeling like they needed just one more song. Hell, they could have turned the entirety of those there just to see Devin with their cover of "Bohemian Rhapsody." Not my favorite BtBaM experiences, but I am happy I went and can say I saw the record live. I'll happily be there for what will be my twelfth time next time they tour.
Despite some of the audience disinterest and rudeness during Between the Buried and Me, there was still a fair amount of people leaving before Devin Townsend Project. I was surprised since this tour felt like better fan crossover package than some of the times I’d seen either band (DTP and Katatonia comes to mind immediately, followed by Coheed and Cambria with BtBaM. Both shows were equal parts neat and weird). Alternately, it could have been Dev’s pick for the music in house before his set which was entirely earworm songs about cuddly animals by Parry Gripp.
When Devin and the guys hit the stage, those remaining went apeshit. They opened their set with the Ocean Machine classic “Night,” and that song turned out to be the only pre-Ziltoid The Omniscient track of the set (Unless you still consider “Kingdom” a Physicist track in its current incarnation, which I don’t). The San Francisco show had Devin under the weather, and it was straining his voice noticeably. Sections of “Kingdom,” “March of the Poozers,” and others where he’d normally sing were screamed to cover the fact that he just couldn’t do it. He was still able to hit most of the notes throughout the night, but you could hear the phlegm and “tour-aids,” as he called it, during his banter and song most effected by his illness, “Ih-Ah.” Dev was unable to hit some difficult vocal runs, but a majority of the song was an audience sing-along of sorts. Fans had him covered until he felt like taking the wheel and ultimately highlighted his temporary inabilities. In Sacramento his voice was back and so was his banter, which was humorous nonsense about being old, or being metal, or his balls. All the usual fun stuff he rambles about. I only mention this because in San Francisco a majority of his monologues focused on his inability to connect with his family while home for his son’s birthday the day before since he was mentally stuck in tour mode. He would later emphasize his love for being able to play music for a living, but the other moments were telling of his physical and emotion fatigue.
As for the rest of the show, the return of “By Your Command” to the set was gladly welcomed and witnessing both “Hyperdrive” and “Ih-ah” were both long-time hopes of mine. Actually, the Sacramento set may have been my favorite from Devin in the eleven times I’ve seen him. The new material from Transcendence really came alive on stage. Hearing “Stormbending” gave me a new appreciation for the song I liked already. It made me love it. “Failure” was already a favorite on the record, and seeing it twice made me hope it becomes a staple of live sets like “Kingdom” has become. The show ended with "Higher" and on the album this song fells just like an extended version of “Grace” from Epicloud, which isn’t a favorite of mine. When I heard the band was closing with it, it felt kind of like no-brainer and I wasn’t really looking forward to it. Holy shit though, that song live is a perfect way to end a set in the current state of the Devin Townsend Project. Like with “Stormbending,” there’s a new appreciation for “Higher.”
Start to finish, Sacramento trumped the San Francisco show. This could also be because I missed Fallujah entirely in SF (Fuck parking and traffic around the Regency, but hey, it gave me another excuse to go twice), but it was more likely just the better crowd for BtBaM and a healthier Devin. I couldn’t help remember the first time I saw the DTP on tour with Scale The Summit, Cynic, and BtBaM. Seeing them now co-headlining with BtBaM was how I felt it should have been in the first place, but it made me also respect the second coming of Devin more so. He seemingly paid his dues all over again and is back where he belongs (SONG REFERENCE!).
Next time for both headliners, I would hope for proper headlining sets. You know, the hour and half (give or take) plus an encore sort of set. Seeing them together like this felt like a one-time thing (or two-time because I have a problem), so I was happy. However, I haven’t seen a set like that from Devin since 2011. Also, Between the Buried and Me has more time to breathe and showcase their material when it’s their show.