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Tuesday 31st March 2015
Academy in Manchester, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
Opening band on Kreator's 2014 winter tour just three months ago, Norway's Shining find themselves back at the Manchester Academy to kickstart proceedings once again; this time, as Devin Townsend Project's European trek comes to a conclusion. So, it's with an overwhelming sense of déjà vu that they work their way through a set of self-styled Blackjazz numbers in familiar surroundings, although to a way bigger crowd than the poor pre-xmas turnout in December. And, unlike before, without Marty Friedman in tow, they're able to maximise their support slot by filling it purely with innovatory Shining bliss.

Once again, the more accessible crowd pleasers like 'I Won't Forget' and 'The One Inside' feature, although it's generally a more sonically diversified set. And it doesn't get more cacophonically batty tonight than their aurally challenging, musically iconoclastic instrumental track, 'HEALTER SKELTER'. It's preceded by frontman Jørgen Munkeby asking the couple of thousand people present: "Do you like jazz music?", to which people yell "yeah" en masse. "Do you like metal music?" receives the exact same response, before he finally enquires: "Do you like jazz metal?" People cheer louder still, then cue the most emphatic fusion piece in their set. Also cue a stage invasion by members of the Devin Townsend Project, plus Periphery guitarist Mark Holcomb, each wielding a different brass instrument. Yep, it's the first of tonight's bizarre randomness, fuelled by "last show of the tour, let's surprise the other bands" syndrome. Judging by Jørgen's semi-bewildered/semi-amused facial expressions, it's a total surprise to him and his fellow musicians to suddenly have five extra bodies dancing around the stage, including Devin himself with what looks like a rusty old tuba (just where did they get all these extra instruments from?!)

Despite this mid-set joviality, it's generally a serious vibe that Shining convey onstage, and also a seriously fucking great one, with lights, music, and performance in perfect alignment. Experiencing these Norwegians live is a potently affective one, both somatically and cognitively. And with a much better sound and mix through the PA than December, they're able to maximise the hard hitting nature of their music...and it does, indeed, hit hard. I'd go as far to say that Shining are one of the most convincingly intense bands to emerge during the past few years since Meshuggah, although with a far more varied sonic palette. The majority of tonight's crowd seem more than impressed so, with continued exposure to bigger crowds, I predict big things for these Norwegians in the near future.
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Devin Townsend at Manchester Academy, UK, 31st March 2015
Photograph copyright © 2015 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
As lights dim in the venue once again, judging by the loud cheers that precede Periphery's appearance, a large portion of tonight's gig goers are evidently as excited about seeing these Americans as they are Devin Townsend. And when they walk out to even louder cheers, they treat the Academy's audience to a duo of tracks from their first two albums, 'Icarus Lives!' and 'Make Total Destroy'. Taking a seemingly chronological approach to their set, this then paves the way for half a dozen tracks from their recently released 'Juggernaut: Alpha' and 'Juggernaut: Omega'. Of all the tracks aired, 'The Scourge' sounds rather wonderful this evening with its astutely layered midway instrumentation resonating epicness within the Academy. It's hard not to be moved by its emotionally-charged sonics. In fact, in general, Periphery as a live force are a much more potently emotive one than on record. The ever so slightly over-polished production that mars, at least for me, some of their recorded material give way to a rawer dynamic in their live performances and tonight is no exception. In particular, frontman Spencer Sotelo conveys so much more emotion through his wide ranging voice and, along with guitarist Mark Holcomb, perpetuates the onstage energy levels.

More end-of tour antics materialise when a couple of people take to the stage with brooms to sweep the floor for the duration of a song. And then there are the bizarre images that appear on two screens behind the band, with Photoshopped members in a variety of randomly bizarre guises. At least, I can only presume these deranged images to be a part of the last show antics, rather than their standard visual backdrop? Is this Devin at work backstage? If so, based on his boredom-fuelled, testicle-centric collage he tweeted a few days earlier, I guess Periphery (and the crowd) have been let off lightly. Periphery's forty five minute set concludes with 'Graveless', for which Spencer picks out one guy from the crowd to instigate a circle pit by starting with a "slow jog". Then, when the band commence the song, it erupts into a wild frenzy of flailing bodies. An apt end to a hugely enjoyable set of virtuosic, accomplished musicianship.
Ziltoid sets the tone nicely prior to Devin Townsend's appearance, with the coffee-loving alien appearing on two screens at the back of the stage in a series of promo clips that first materialised online last year for the long-awaited 'Z²', entertaining the crowd with all kinds of randomness and inappropriateness. And, by the time Devin and his comrades appear on stage, the venue has filled out nicely, with a near capacity crowd of around 2,500 here to witness the DTP in action. Fortunately for those present this Canadian is the man he is, for a lesser individual would have cancelled the show if they'd been stricken with the hideously nasty flu that Devin's been suffering from for the previous few days (and he informed me it's at its worst today). I'm guessing 'cancelled' is a word that doesn't feature in Dev's vocabulary. This afternoon, looking like he'd be way better off sleeping for the rest of the day rather than performing an hour and a half of predominantly intense music under hot stage lights, I have nothing but unmitigated admiration for his determination not to disappoint his fans. His steadfast resolve and professionalism are as great as his sincerity and affability - this, for me defines a true metal hero. That's the kind of man who stands on the Academy's stage tonight.

Despite his flu-ridden state, you would never know. Well, Devin alludes to such during the evening - from the off, he asks the audience if they can help out with singing Also, at one, point, he says that he's making every attempt not to sound like Tarzan with his vocals, then proceeds to impersonate the rope-swinging, yodelling ape-man. While some of his vocals do perhaps sway a little towards the husky side, particularly during the second half of the set, he's generally in fine voice, and somehow still manages to deliver what sounds like a pitch-perfect performance with his usual power and range. I mean, he must be suffering up there but he doesn't let it show for one instant, perpetuating his familiar range of gurns and grins throughout a pleasingly varied setlist. Opening with 'Infinity' favourite 'Truth', 'Deathray' from 'Z²' swiftly follows before they dip into 'Physicist' territory for 'Namaste'; 'Night' from 'Ocean Machine: Biomech'; and 'Accelerated Evolution' number 'Storm'. Each and every track aired tonight is greeted, en masse, as if a classic, and rightfully so.

'Hyperdrive', 'Rejoice', 'Addicted!', 'March of the Poozers' and 'A New Reign' follow before more end-of-tour shenanigans ensue. 'Lucky Animals' is up next (after a quick lesson in 'jazz hands'), which sees Shining's Jørgen back on stage, in a monkey mask, for a sax solo, and joined by some of his bandmates plus Periphery members, also donning various animal masks, all manically bouncing around. Coupled with over four thousand hands sporadically flung into the air throughout the venue at key points in the song, it's a surreal spectacle all round! The night's second 'Ocean Machine' track, 'Life', follows, before returning to 'Infinity' for a fantastic rendition of 'Christeen'. With all of DTP then exiting the stage except Devin, he states he'll eschew the whole encore facade, and remains on stage to entertain folk with the story of his tool belt acquisition and DIY disasters, before a solo airing of 'Ih-Ah!', which works amazingly well in its stripped down form of just voice and guitar. I say stripped-down, but Dev encourages everyone to sing along, to which they oblige, so it's the 'Universal Choir' in action (well, at least the Mancunian contingent of).

The rest of the DTP appear back on stage for the final song of the evening, 'Kingdom', which prompts another stage invasion with more animal masks, guitar miming, dodgy dancing and brooms. Such a vocally intense song, I did wonder how Devin's voice would fare, but he nails it in terms of both power and pitch. I guess it's one final expulsion of energy before he can eventually get some much needed rest and recuperation time ahead of his return to the UK in a few days' time for the big one, the Royal Albert Hall. Tonight, though, Devin and his DTP brethren have delivered an exhilaratingly entertaining tour de force. His popularity continues to soar, and long may it continue to do so. He more than deserves it.
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