Last week, I popped through to Glasgow on a rainy Friday evening in December to catch two of my favourite metal artists of all time, Devin Townsend and Fear Factory, play a co-headlining show at the O2 ABC. This was my consolation for having to miss out on Devin Townsend’s Retinal Circus back in October due to work commitments and while I wasn’t expecting anything quite as bombastic as that particular showcase occasion, Devin has never disappointed either of the two times I had seen him live previous; in fact, his performance in Dublin in November 2011 is one of the best shows I’ve had the pleasure of watching.
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect Fear Factory and had read reports of them being poorly received by audiences on the current tour though without any indication as to why exactly. Though being an enormous fan of both Dev and Fear Factory, I felt that their most recent albums, Epicloud and The Industrialist respectively, were a bit disappointing and so was hoping for a setlist comprised of more vintage material.
First however, I had to endure Tesseract. Somehow I had missed that there was an additional support slot so when I entered the ABC about half an hour after doors opened, I was a bit surprised to see a band playing in front of an enormous Fear Factory banner. It took a few seconds of Googling via my phone to figure out that the act on stage in front of me were in fact Tesseract and so I put up and shut up, their prog-djent really not doing anything for me. After they left the stage, it really didn’t seem to take long for Fear Factory’s road crew to get set up; one of the fastest turnarounds for a big name band I’ve seen in all my years of gig-attendance.
Fear Factory in Glasgow, 2012
Fear Factory opened with The Industrialist, the title track from the album of the same name, coming on stage after the intro came on the PA. It’s a decent track and while not as good as anything from Mechanise, still a solid opener. I have to confess that I was a bit taken aback by the fact that Dino Carares is, well, a rather large chap in the flesh, larger than expected. Still, he’s pretty mobile on stage and exudes sheer presence. The Industrialist was followed by Shock, apparently a live favourite but Obsolete is the Fear Factory album I’ve listened to the least so I have to confess that it left me pretty blown away. Aside from a couple of technical hitches, the sound for Fear Factory at the ABC was nigh-on perfect; crystal clear with great balance between the different instruments rendering everything distinct. Edgecrusher followed and then Powershifter, a huge personal favourite and a track that has been a staple of my gym playlists all year long.
Dino Careras in Glasgow, 2012
It was unfortunate then that it was during Powershift that Dino’s guitar cut out for a good 45 seconds, revealing just how much his enormous tone lies at the core of the band’s sound. Ever the pro, he kept playing while his tech sorted things out at the sides of the stage and re-entered the song flawlessly. However it was at this point that I finally put my finger on something that had been niggling at me all night – Burton C. Bells’ clean vocals were really rather poor. He was flat on nearly every clean section and just couldn’t seem to reproduce his studio delivery. It may have been illness but I don’t think so; more likely the demands of a long tour, perhaps? In any case, it was disappointing. Also bizarre was seeing Linchpin from Digimortal getting about as big a response as any other song on the night. I can only assume it was down to a crowd who were very clearly mainly there for Devin Townsend but it’s still odd hearing what’s essentially a nu-metal track lauded over industrial death metal classics like Martyr.
The mid-part of Fear Factory’s set was an interesting combination of older and more recent stuff, including Resurrection from Archetype (which still sounds like a NIN track for the first minute or so to me), Recharger from the new record and the aforementioned Martyr from Soul of a New Machine. The closing salvo was utterly superb with a trio of songs from Demanufacture – the title track, Self Bias Resistor (probably my favourite FF song by quite a long way) and Replica. Again Bell’s clean vocals seemed off here, especially on Self Bias Resistor which was a shame considering the obvious enthusiasm the Demanufacture tracks caused up front – especially after Dino’s request for a circle pit during Demanufacture. After Replica, the band left the stage with a promise to return. All in all a good show, with a particularly good, compact setlist that will have satisfied new and old fans alike, though somewhat diminished by Bell’s subpar performance. I enjoyed it, but I’m not sure I’d pay full price to see Fear Factory headline without some very strong support.
Devin Townsend in Glasgow, 2012
This was my third time seeing Devin Townsend in less than two years and given the quality of the last two shows, one of which was at The Garage in Glasgow, the other at the Ambassador in Dublin, I had a pretty good idea what to expect. Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t prepared for a few surprises – like a new (to me at least) Ziltoid TV reel that ran as the roadies set up the stage which featured tons of material I hadn’t see before. I won’t spoil too much but the Ziltoid version of Badger Badger Badger was nothing less than inspired, especially in the opinion of this veteran connoisseur of internet memes.
As expected, Dev was nothing less than thoroughly entertaining though I must confess that it was the weakest of the three shows I have now seen, largely due to a short setlist thanks to the ridiculous 10pm curfew. Seriously, who sets a 10pm curfew on a Friday night? Granted, I’ve fallen foul of late finishes in the past, like this year when I went to see Pain of Salvation and missed the last third of a epic set, but even 10.30 would have allowed for a few more choice cuts from Devin’s copious back catalogue. As it was, what we got wasn’t bad though not quite of the calibre of setlists from when I’ve seen him play before. I’m aware that I probably sound like something of a curmudgeon; I did really enjoy the whole gig and Devin is my favourite artist but I seem to hardwired to compare, contrast and critique,
Devin Townsend in Glasgow, 2012
He kicked off with Supercrush! from Addicted, surprisingly downtempo for an opening number but one that actually set the tone for the rest of the show quite well; this was Devin in the home stretch of a long tour and he and the band seemed comfortable and at easy. No real need to gee up the crowd with a belter to start, they were doing a good enough job of that themselves. Truth from Infinity followed, a stone cold Dev classic and something he has played every time I’ve seen him. I’m not sure I’ll ever get bored of this song. A rather unexpected burst of ZTO from Ziltoid followed (the crowd loved this) before crashing into a stunning Planet of the Apes, something I’ve never heard played live before. I thought the sound was a bit off here and quite muddy but it may also have just been the fact that there’s so much stuff going on in this and other material from Deconstruction that something is bound to get lost in the transition to the live environment.
Where We Belong from Epicloud came next and received massive approval from the crowd, as did the rest of the songs from Epicloud played tonight, which surprised me. As I mentioned at the start, I found Epicloud a bit disappointing, largely because it felt like an incoherent series of cast-offs from the four album project with massively varying quality but well, horses for courses. During War (another new one for me), Devin managed to bring out mass panic in the crowd when he stopped and announced that his throat was in such a bad state he couldn’t continue. Disbelief reigned for about three seconds until he screamed “PSYCHE!” and crashed back into the song. Still, it was clear that he was suffering and considering the trauma his vocal chords were undoubtedly enduring, he put in a very strong performance right to the end of the set.
Devin Townsend in Glasgow, 2012
Vampira followed, a personal favourite and a song I hadn’t been expecting to hear live. Sadly without the Vampolka intro but, well, you can’t have everything. The Lucky Animals included mass synchronised jazz hands; an interesting social experiment making a weak track a little more entertaining. Still, everyone else seemed to enjoy it plenty. Julaar was next and I again noticed the muddy quality to the sound that I picked up during Planet of the Apes, so I’m going to pin that one on the setup on the night not being ideal for Deconstruction material. Grace from Epicloud is an excellent track and simply sounds huge (both epic and loud, as it were) when played live. The visuals for this were excellent too. Devin announced that they only had one song left due to the curfew… which turned out to be the sublime Deep Peace, another one I’ll simply never tire of. I expected this to get the biggest cheer of the night but the response was actually a little muted. to my surprise.
As the final chord rang out, it became clear that the show wasn’t over quite yet and, without taking an encore break, Dev managed to slip in Liberation from Epicloud to close with. Somebody standing in front of me was shouting for Deadhead all night and seemed disappointed not to get it right at the end. Liberation does seem like an odd note to end on but at that point, I was too pleased that we were getting an extra song to quibble over the specifics. After a hurried farewell (it was clear that the band were pretty much being shooed off the stage), it was back out into the rainy Glasgow night.
Devin Townsend Mirrorball at the Glasgow ABC
Overall, this double header was nothing less than excellent value for money – £19 to see two of my favourite artist put on solidly entertaining shows. Not the best gig I’ve been to, by any means, but considering they were near the end of a pretty exhausting tour schedule, in the middle of a northern European winter, close to Christmas, both Fear Factory and Devin Townsend gave their all to make sure everyone had a good time. Dev, in particular, showed what a consummate pro he is, keeping on playing although he clearly wasn’t feeling well, and squeezing as much as he possibly could into a little over an hour or stage time. You can bet Ill be back to see him next time he passes through Scotland.
All photos by me. If re-used, please attribute with a link back to the blog.