The only rule that I really abide by in my album of the year 2013 countdown, is that the music must be original. Therefore, there is no room in my list for live albums or DVDs. Normally, this is not a problem because I’m not the biggest fan in general of live releases in whatever format they come. However, in 2013, the situation was somewhat different, hence this blog post.
As the title of this post hints at, there were actually three live releases that I felt warranted special mention for different reasons. Two simply helped to reinforce a long held love, whilst the other acted as something of an epiphany, making me realise that I had been missing out on a very good band up to now.
I began by putting together a post mentioning all three, but I got a bit carried away with my reviews and so I have instead decided to create a mini countdown. In that case, first up but in no particular order, is:
Devin Townsend is a genius. Some refer to him as a mad genius and there is certainly an element of the plain bonkers about ‘The Retinal Circus’. Recorded at The Roundhouse in London on 27th October 2012 the show is effectively a ‘best-of’ live show that has been loosely wrapped up into a musical, with a story of sorts running through the show. It wouldn’t be Devin if it wasn’t something at least a little bit different and extravagant, though, would it?
I have seen snippets of the DVD and can confirm that the show is certainly an impressive visual experience, with giant screens, stage actors and even a gospel choir at one stage. However, I will admit to not having seen the entire thing due to reasons of time, technical difficulties and the fact that the audio experience is that damn great, I’ve been more than content to listen to this alone for the most part. As such, what I can say is that from a musical standpoint, ‘The Retinal Circus’ is absolutely stunning and it is worthy of a place in my Top 3 on that basis alone. Featuring live renditions of most eras of Devin’s career to date, we’re treated to some Ziltoid, a wonderfully brutal blast of Strapping Young Lad (‘Detox’ featuring Jed Simon) and everything in between, including his more recent forays into chilled-out acoustic rock.
We all know by now how diverse Devin’s back catalogue is, but what this album demonstrates so well however, is just how fantastic his entire back catalogue is. Is there a duff track anywhere on this double disc? Of course not. Does your interest wander at any time? Definitely not. At each turn, there’s just full-on brilliance. On the basis of this release, I have a new found love for many tracks, not least ‘Ih-Ah!’, ‘Planet Of The Apes’ and ‘War’.
Devin has been joined on stage by ex-The Gathering vocalist Anneke van Giesbergen and her stunning voice adds another dimension to much of the material. The other famous name involved is Steve Vai, who acts as the narrator in the musical and he adds to the humour of the show with his own understated dry wit. Speaking of humour, you cannot help but raise a smile or guffaw loudly at various parts of this show. Devin is at his cheeky, irreverent best and proves that, aside from being a musical marvel, he is also the consummate front man, uttering something amusing between and sometimes during songs, usually self-deprecating and with tongue firmly in cheek.
If you’ll indulge me, one of my favourite lines, aside from Ziltoid’s hilarious reaction to impending fatherhood, is during a slower track where I can only assume that the audience are participating in a ‘hands-in-the-air wave-a-thon’. In response to this participation Devin quips ‘anyone who listened to a black metal record today, is officially omitted from this arm-waving bullshit’. Classic.
‘The Retinal Circus’ is an album that radiates warmth and fun but, backed up by some of the best music throughout Devin’s impressive career and recorded with an impressive production, it is a release that cannot be missed. Are you a Devin fan? If you are, you need this.