Whenever I pick a movie soundtrack or a film score I listen to the music and I can picture the movie. I get invaded by the vibe and return to the prior visual experience of the film, which is exactly what happened while listening to Devin Townsend's latest live offering.
Having attended the 'Retinal Circus' show at The Roundhouse on October last year I plugged my earphones and it took me back to the whole visual madness, the lucky animals, the fire, the planet of the apes, the giant vagina and of course, Ziltoid.
There is no point in revisiting the concept and visuals of 'The Retinal Circus' after the triple feature we did last year covering not only the Roundhouse show, but also Devin's gigs at Newcastle and Cambridge. So, consider this an extension or companion of the 'Retinal Circus' experience described here here.
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I am more than eager to delve into the CD, DVD and Blu Ray releases and try to live the whole thing again and again. The audio release is a great start, but I am of the opinion that the CD should also be seen as an independent piece, so the question is whether it stands by itself?
Why is this release an impressive sonic experience as well? Because it focuses on the music and it presents a collection of great songs that we've never heard live in a proper release before. I remember reading an interview with Bruce Dickinson where he said that a live album should be a celebration of a bunch of great music and in the case of Devin is exactly that.
'The Retinal Circus' is a celebration of his career, which musically and conceptually is very rich and varied, making it really difficult to summarize in just one release. I could say that I missed a song here and there, but apart from being picky and having personal favorites I can't think of any way you can improve this live release.
The audio quality is high as expected, allowing a clear distinction of every element that comes together to build Devin's trademark wall of sound. His live show relies heavily on technology (backing tracks, FX, synths, etc.), which is something that has been a matter of constant criticism by musical purists.
However, I always thought that maintaining the organic feel and versatility while using technology and over the top sound production is one of Devin's greatest points of distinction. Normally musicians end up sounding fabricated while translating the use of loops/tracks/fx to the live setting, but Devin keeps the natural feel and personal vibe because his music is personal in nature and triggered by authentic human emotions.
This is the reason why he can grab just about anything conceptually, from puppets in outer space to gospel choirs and raw Metal in order to wrap it and share it with us in songs. This sense of excitement and adventure is intact in the Retinal Circus.
The Circus has a series of collaborators such as Steve Vai, Jed Simon from Strapping Young Lad and of course Anneke Van Giersbergen. It's very nice to hear live versions of old favorites like 'Vampira' and 'Truth', which really come to life and are somewhat improved by the spontaneous feel of the live setting, the production and the additional touch of Anneke's voice and charisma. Her vocals blend nicely with Devin's and it works very well in tracks like 'War' where Devin asks her for help ("Anneke, I'm too old. Help me out babe").
The 'Epicloud' tracks work really well along with the songs from the back catalogue, and hearing stuff off 'Ziltoid The Omniscient' live is great and exciting while we wait for the forthcoming second 'Ziltoid' release.
'Hyperdrive' is presented here acoustically, so now we have three versions of the songs to pick from our collection. The song sounds nicealongside 'Ih-Ah!' creating a mellow, emotional and more intimate moment of the show. The Strapping tracks sound as punishing as ever and add to the insane vibe of 'The Retinal Circus'. The fans were genuinely excited to hear these songs again and you can feel that while listening to the songs.
Devin Townsend has created a world of his own that is growing gradually with each release. 'The Retinal Circus' cannot summarize this vast world, but it gives us a great experience of what Devin is about. This performance is a true celebration of the work of an artist that will continue to offer some of today's most exciting and creatively powerful music.