The thing I love about Devin Townsend is he is your classic ideas man. What amazes me is that he pulls off so many of these zany ideas where other mere mortals in the indie music scene are less able to make things happen on such a scale.
So when Dev announces a one off London concept show built around a story arc that threads his career together and promises a feast for the eyes as well as the ears, you would be forgiven for being slightly sceptical about the production quality of said event. A one off show for an artist whose audience is probably what you would describe as solid rather than spectacular in terms of numbers? So, maybe we should expect a decent puppet or two and a few videos?
Well, The Retinal Circus certainly delivers a helluva lot more than that.
Rock Opera like story line to thread the songs together? Check. Live acting of the story arc? Check. A full gospel choir decked out in robes? Check. A video of dancing gorillas? Check. A full dance troupe including ribbon work? Check. A giant alien orifice that gives birth to a giant Ziltoid-baby?
You better believe it.
Devin's utter sincerity at ensuring very little is taken too seriously is the key to what makes his career tick. Many artists try and fail to take his self-deprecating humour to this type of level - that impossible blend of supreme arrogance and assuredness that has enough tongue in cheek and artistic insecurity to ensure that it works. But it is a blend that comes with obscene ease to Devin it seems.
And it is this balance that ensures a beast like The Retinal Circus works on screen and in ears.
Old mate Steve Vai appears on the video screen to narrate the journey of our story's hero Harold. Story is probably putting this a little too specifically - it is of course a bunch of tenuous threads being used to link the setlist together. Vai's narrator performance is spot on - which should be no surprise given the 'rock god' role he has played for so many years. As Vai guides us through the night we see Harold's various adventures represented in music, with a slight pause to focus on alien omnipotent Ziltoid and his journey into fatherhood. Masses of video, giant technicolour props and dance enhance the whole experience; all directed by the menacing rag doll ringmaster presence that is Devin Townsend himself.
If it all sounds a little over the top, it is. But in a good way.
Musically, fans know there is no need to worry here. The tour-de-force that is a Devin show is in full steam ahead mode, and there are a lot of old favourites from the back catalogue to keep fans happy. The DTP band is more than tight - they are at various times brutal, cunning and downright massive. Sometime partner in crime Anneke van Giersbergen is prominently featured throughout, and definitely provides key moments throughout the show. And for those who have missed the ultra-aggression (albeit tongue in cheek at times) of Strapping Young Lad, there is a truly emotional appearance from Strapping partner in crime Jed Simon to to a rapturous reception from the crowd that seems to really mean something to Jed. When this is coupled with versions of Strapping classics "Love?" and "Detox" the doffing of the cap to a past that Dev has probably looked away from of recent times appears complete.
The Retinal Circus is an amazing show brought to life with care and attention. The visuals look pristine, the performance is fantastic, and the concept is crazy.
This has to be the live concert film of the year. Buy it.