Devin Townsend: The Retinal Circus review

\"TheDevin Townsend can put on one hell of a show. Whether it’s Strapping Young Lad or The Devin Townsend Project, you know you’re gonna get one of the best shows you’ll ever attend. That’s why expectations were high when he announced the release of The Retinal Circus, a two CD/two DVD set. The Retinal Circus showcases songs spanning from Townsend’s long, illustrious metal career and includes a song from almost every album he’s ever done as a solo artist- almost. Right away we’re introduced to Harold, a normal teenage boy. We’re taken on a video journey of Harold’s life and what it entails. When Harold goes to sleep, we’re taken on a trip inside his head and into his dreams. As he drifts off to sleep a choir takes the stage and begins an epic song as a beautiful blonde woman (who we quickly realize is guest vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen) walks up to Harold as he’s sleeping on a giant platform and begins her part of the song. As she’s singing, Devin Townsend and band takes the stage for what becomes an explosive intro song that sets the stage for what is to come. As the band goes into “Lucky Animals,” Townsend is joined on stage by a zoo of women dressed as yleopards, tigers, cats and other animals, dancing and prancing around stage as the band plays the song. It’s clear this isn’t just a concert, it’s going to be an experience. After the song, Steve Vai, our video narrator (that’s right, Steve Vai is our narrator), informs us we’ve lost part of our choir during the last song. No fear, though, because the animals have evolved….into apes! This leads us into “Planet of the Apes.” Now we not only have cats onstage but we also have giant apes dominating the stage with Townsend and the rest of the band. Cages are brought onstage to trap the apes, but they overtake the cats and trap them in the cage. Townsend’s sense of humor is shown throughout as well by throwing in little lines here and there like “It’s a musical! How gay can ya get, right!?” Another thing is very clear and that’s that Harold has some pretty messed up dreams. It’s not long until we meet up with the almighty and omniscient Ziltoid, either, with “Planet Smasher.” The crowd has pissed off Ziltoid and the war has begun. After a video call between Ziltoid and his wife, we find out the extraterrestrial couple are having a baby, thus leading into “Babysong” followed up by “Vampolka” and “Vampira,” capping off a three-song combo from Synchestra and during which the baby Ziltoid is born. Back on earth, Harold is awake and surrounded by women- okay, maybe he’s not awake. Vai  tells him to be careful or it could turn into another addiction, leading into “Addicted.” After a few more songs there’s an intermission and we come back for “Hyperdrive,” yet another track from Ziltoid the Omnicient. Harold is still floating in the effervescent void of outer space so Townsend plays “Hyperdrive” acoustically to try and coax Harold back to Earth. From here we’re taken into “Ih-Ah” and “Were We Belong,” and Harold is back on Earth. Next, we’re joined by Steve Skull, the skull of Steve Vai, who calls out Townsend on the fact that he doesn’t play any Strapping Young Lad material. Townsend tells the crowd he’s been working on a New Age ballad for an upcoming album that he’d like to play and Skull asks if he can hold Townsend’s purse while he plays it. Townsend says he isn’t playing anything by Strapping Young Lad- “Psyche!,” as he explodes into “Detox” from City and joined by Jed Simon as the crowd erupts. After the choir sings the “Hallelujah Chorus” to celebrate Harold finally coming back down to Earth and waking up, the choir rips off their gowns and the stage is filled with dancers, contortionists and the band rips into “Bend it Like Bender” for a massive celebration followed by “Life.” Throw in another Strapping Young Lad track with Jed Simon (“Love?”) and a few more songs and we’ve got one hell of a show. What it all comes down to is Devin Townsend knows how to put on show. It took a year of pre-production and rehearsals for The Retinal Circus and it shows. There’s fire, smoke, pyro, actors, dancers, contortionists, Ziltoid The Omnicient in the flesh and more and, when it all comes down to it, the most badass musical production ever. It would be robbing the performance without mentioning guest vocalist Anneke van Giersbergen singing what has to be one of her strongest performances and adding an extra element to the show. She really took it to another level. No review or words can do this show justice, you’ll have to buy and see it to believe it. Rating: 10/10