By Mark Gromen
Philadelphia, actually... the TLA (Theater Of The Living Arts) on South Street, once the alternative shopping/entertainment/bar area of the city. DEVIN TOWNSEND headlined the same venue last September. Having previously seen both, wouldn't really consider myself a fan, but they're riding the crest of international recognition, thus it's important to see how the other half lives. Speaking of the generation gap, about 75% of the crowd was under 30, whereas DORO and TESTAMENT / OVERKILL shows earlier in the week saw the audience make-up flip-flopped. Not your stereotypical metal gathering, more like a physics convention, or a call for extras on the Big Bang Theory TV show: leather jackets replaced by Coke bottle eye glasses, short hair and complete adulation for anyone of the female form.
It was a packed house, a virtual sell-out. On the street, people were eager to get a ticket, even if that meant dealing with scalpers. GOJIRA could not take full advantage of the throng, as there was a hastily constructed sign apologizing for the lack of merch. Opportunity lost. Before TOWNSEND took the stage, a video screen offered comical stills and animated faux advertisements. Some in attendance didn't need live entertainment, just give them a video screen, they're happy! They opened with 'More', mugging and joking from the moment he appeared in his black suit jacket atop matching t-shirt (a stark contrast to his bald head and pasty Canadian skin), Devy admitted to not wanting to play the show tonight, but was touched by the reaction, including fans providing their own balloon at bat around the room (last time, as headliner, he provided the props). He mocked, "I know it's Saturday, but let's pretend it's a Friday night," a line that undoubtedly worked better on the tour's non-weekend performances. Like all the others, 'Planet Of The Apes' was augmented by a constant barrage of streaming images on the screen behind the steel platform from which he sang. Periodically he left his perch, venturing to the front of the stage, or walking on the side monitors, to get closer to his fans. He enthralls and belittles them at the same time, he chided, "Know you guys hold the key to uber gayness." While he plays, he plants a kiss to the top of the security guard's head. As an intro to 'Lucky Animals' he recalled how KISS introduces each song with a small tale of what inspired the song and how that wouldn't work for his material: "It's fun. It's Saturday and you've probably got plenty of beers in ya." Green strobes split the darkness. Metalhead are well versed in the traditions of live concerts, Devy spins all those conventions on their heads, repeatedly. In closing with 'Grace' (the word emblazoned on the video wall), his parting words ring sincere, "We're a small scene and we need each other to do this." Highly entertaining.
The French foursome are a gateway drug, to heavier sounds. Joe Duplantier takes center stage, his stringy hair already wet as he strums the open chords to an aptly entitled 'Explosia', which kicks off a frenzy. Stagedivers breech the barricade almost immediately. Practically the antithesis of the entertainer who just departed, GOJIRA are content to thrash away in confined space, letting the music do the talking. Bassist Jean-Michel Labadie is the most animated, at times nearly bending over backwards. 'Flying Whales' sees the stage bathed in appropriate blue lights, then red for 'Backbone' and white strobes on 'The Heaviest Matter Of The Universe'. Their own visual Tricolour!
Duplantier drags the guitar pick across the strings to create an eerie, yet rhythmic scratching sound. The giant profile of an innervated head that graces the cover of their current L'Enfant Sauvage ("Wild Child") album was replicated behind drummer/brother Mario Duplantier and periodically served as a video portal. At times, backlit in silhouette, from afar it looked like some zombie scene in one of the Living Dead movies, the darkened crowd with outstretched arms overhead, vainly attempting to get a hold of their idols. Duplantier teased/obliged by climbing the monitors, working each corner of the stage. 'Toxic Garbage Island' is lit in green, with more strobes, the staccato riffs reminiscent of MESHUGGAH, who paradoxically were in town just two nights before. The frontman jokingly introduced 'Wisdom Comes' (the oldest tune aired, off their second album, 2003's The Link) as a, "relaxed, easy going." It was nothing like what he'd promised, aggro from jump. If that's toned down in his world, then I'm all in! A drum solo followed 'Oroborus', spreading some (Duplantier) brotherly love in the city for which it's named. 'Vacuity' ended the proper set, only to make room for the 'Gift Of Guilt' encore. This late in the tour, had hoped there might be some variation in the setlist, but those around me weren't complaining.
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