The year was 2009. I was amped up and ready to witness the mass barbarian slaughter that is Gojira live. I packed a flask, wore the most offensive shirt in my closet, and set off for what was sure to be one of the most punishing nights of my life. And let me tell you, punishing doesn’t even begin to describe what it’s like seeing these French monstrosities live.
Fast forward almost 4 years, and there I was again, donning my blackest shirt, flask of whiskey in tow, prepared to once again be sonically annihilated and torn down to the bone by the legends themselves. To say I was beyond excited is an understatement. To this day, after witnessing over 100 metal bands live, nobody does it like Gojira. Add Devin Townsend to the bill and, like a ravenous tiger, my excitement couldn’t be caged any longer.
I arrived at The Henry Fonda Theatre eagerly awaiting what was sure to be the crowning moment of a new year, a performance so utterly captivating that it would forever change the genetic makeup I was bestowed with at birth. The dimly lit entrance to the hall, with dozens of antique lanterns and light fixtures adorning the walls, felt more like I was entering a mausoleum than a concert hall. The gothic artwork towered above me, resembling the mad scrawlings of an interned prisoner, making me long for the down-tuned sinister tones that were about to rattle the ground beneath me. Before any notes were cast from the PA, I was already overwhelmed with a sense of malaise and apprehension, as the lights dimmed and the opening act took the stage.
First up was The Atlas Moth and their prog-laden brand of sludge. They set a droning mood, blanketing the venue in a morose and ethereal fog, as Stravos‘s shrieks bellowed into the ears of everyone within a 5 mile radius, shrouding the evening in a gray-black veil. While they may not be the most enrapturing live band, their blackened tone masked the evening in an entirely encapsulating emanation, launching the atmosphere into an unearthly battalion of droning sludge that encapsulated the audience in a way that only an interplanetary experience could. It was as if I was catapulted into space by a species of alien hellbent on lobotomizing my irreproachably metal soul in an effort to discombobulate my oh so egotistical frame of mind. In short, I was blown away.
After taking a rooftop smoke break and buying a $14 plastic cup filled with watered-down beer, I creeped ever closer to the stage in anticipation of what was sure to be the first of many impending spectacles: Devin Fucking Townsend.
In true Devin fashion, his set was preceded by a montage of viral video clips, including the Don Herzfeldt “Rejected” cartoons and the infamous “Badger, Badger” gif. It may seem out of place, and very un-metal, but that’s exactly what Devin wants, as he berated “metal” and all it entails for the majority of his stage banter. He is a true entertainer, and seeing him live is a mix of stand-up routines, in your face metal, and sarcastic dance music, making it near impossible to predict what’s next and to not enjoy yourself. Clad in his “new-year/new-color” blazer, and towering over the crowd with his impeding form and inhumanly wide mouth, he walked up to the mic and said “My name is Devin Townsend and I suck dick for crack money!”.
And thus, the evening truly began.
As I stated above, a Devin Townsend show is an experience like no other. Within the span of an hour the audience went from laughing hysterically, to moshing their bones into dust, and finally reveling in the enigmatic light that Devin’s sincere optimism forces upon you (he got an entire crowd full of long-haired sweaty dudes to do fucking jazz hands over and over during “Lucky Animals” for chrissake, a true high point of the evening). He played cuts from the bulk of his discography, though the majority came off of his newest album Epicloud, and touched every single person there, whether they knew it or not. The highlight of his set for me was “Planet Of The Apes”, off of 2011’s Deconstruction, which took me by surprise as he rarely plays much material from that album due to its scope and operatic sensibilities (the man can’t bring a full-on orchestra with him everywhere).
In a not particularly surprising turn of events, he closed the show with “Grace”, one of the heaviest and most uplifting songs on Epicloud, and brought his portion of the evening to a powerful close. The words “LAUGH. LOVE. LIVE. LEARN.” beamed on the screen behind him as the entire audience belted them out with the same passion and intensity as Devin, ushering in that rare sanguine atmosphere to a metal show that would otherwise be scorned. As he left the stage I felt changed, like I’d experienced something I couldn’t entirely comprehend or explain, but felt better for having been through it. And that’s why Devin’s shows are so powerful: They trick you into thinking you’re just having fun while subconsciously moving you in the process. It’s an event unlike many others in this all too often close-minded genre of music.
And just when I thought I couldn’t take any more, the lights dimmed again, and my feeble little mind beamed with excitement as the French gods of metal took the stage.
The physical power behind Gojira’s music is crippling, and let me tell you, when you experience it live, surrounded by towering speakers and bombarded with harrowing visuals, it is akin to a monstrous religious awakening. Gojira have a talent for connecting on an almost spiritual level with their audience, making the ethereal and catastrophic nature of their sound something you feel deep in your core. The entire theatre shook violently as the band exploded out of the speakers, turning the crowd into an undulating mass of thrashing bodies in an almost ghost-like trance, hypnotized by the music an the show.
The band played songs spanning their entire discography, never lingering too long on one album or the next. Watching bassist Jean-Michel literally catapult himself into a spinning vortex of crazy when once the main riff in “Flying Whales” kicked in was awe-inspiring. It was one of those rare moments where I genuinely feared for the well being of the other band members as he let loose in a momentary fit of excitement and emotion. Drummer Mario Duplantier is still one of the most intense forces in metal today, and watching him beat the shit out of his drums with clock-like precision is something I would happily do for hours on end. He is a human force of nature.
The night wasn’t all body-wracking intensity however. They had some pretty light-hearted stage banter as well, as frontman Joe Duplantier asked the audience “Does anyone speak French?”. This was met with an almost death-like silence, which prompted him to ask “Didn’t anyone take French in school? Do you know how to say ‘yes’ in French?”. The crowd erupted with a simultaneous cry of “Ui!”, sending the venue into fits of laughter and applause. By the end of the night it all came back around; as the band left the stage for the required “5 minute break before the encore”, the crowd banded together chanting “GO-JI-RA, UI!” over and over, which I have to say was one of the funniest concert-going experiences I’ve ever had.
Of course the band came back and closed the show in the most fitting way. The guitar slowly roared to life as Joe tapped out the intro to “Gift Of Guilt”, bringing the night to an epic conclusion that almost brought me to tears.
All in all this was by far one of the best shows I’ve ever experienced. I strongly urge anyone who has not yet seen these bands live to check them out on their remaining dates. It is something that you will surely not soon forget.