The Devin Townsend Project / sleepmakeswaves
Enmore Theatre, Sydney 22/05/2017
Photos & Review: Peter Zaluzny (Facebook/Twitter)

The quality of a live performance cannot be measured on musical skills alone. The key factor is in the faces each band members pulls during the set. In this instance, instrumental post-rock/prog outfit sleepmakeswaves are one of the best bands in the country.

All four brought their own interpretation on the riff mug to the table - guitarist Lachlan Marks stared into the venue with the wide-eyed, open-mouthed awe of a kid in a candy store, while fellow six-stringer Otto Wicks-Green opted for either an energetic expression of enthusiasm or pure, orgasmic bliss. Alex Wilson closed his eyes and occasionally scrunched his face with sheer determination, whenever it was time to thrash around and tear up the bass in front of drummer Tim Adderley, who's flowing metal locks gave him something of a Cousin Itt look.

Yes, the face game is strong in sleepmakeswaves. Strong and essential! It's amazing to watch them say so much without words, and to establish a non-verbal emotional communication via a variety of rock, ambient or metal-driven soundscapes infused with loads of layering and electronica. But facial expressions aside, these guys can craft poetry that's a hell of a lot more engaging than many bands of a similar ilk, with vocalists.

A band's glory days are typically associated with youth. They cranked out their most inspired works when the internal flame wasn't drowned out by the responsibilities of adulthood. But Devin Townsend is a different breed. He's a musician that seems to get better with age, as he refines his compositions, rehearses the live shows to the letter, and draws from decades of life experience when engaging with the audience. Sure, the music is mindboggling, but it's the way that Dev throws himself into every performance, warts and all, that make his shows so memorable.

Everything in Sydney was gargantuan. Huge lights, loud speakers, layer upon layer upon layer of backing tracks designed to make Dev and the gang sound like a million musicians at once. And beneath it all was a hilarious, incredibly intelligent and talented individual who's insecurities were at the heartfelt core of the performance.

You know those people that just keep talking until you tell them to stop, at which point they've put both feet in their mouth and fallen down? That's Devy. But he engages the room in such a way that he doesn't come off as awkward. He's that overly enthusiastic friend, but one who actually has something intelligent and inspiring to say when stops rapping about farts and coffee loving aliens; a big, lovely metal nerd that's just as awkward as the rest of us, with a Framus guitar obsession.

Most tracks were interspersed with pearls of wisdom. Before "Deadhead" he declared that "this is dedicated to my wife. Or maybe my dad. Or my dad's anus, I don't know I can't really tell them apart," while "Supercrush" was prefaced with "yes I have a huge penis, not really, it's like an uncooked prawn." All this, combined with the awe-inspiring soundtrack, turns any Devin Townsend show into a big, geeky metal love in.

Jump into a mosh and you're guaranteed to become fast friends with everyone around you, which more or less happened when the room erupted in glorious euphoria as soon as "March of the Poozers" thumped to life. He screamed, the crowd lept in unison, they joined him in a metal as f**k countdown from ten to one, and he cackled with glee. It wasn't the only time he shared a moment with the audience either. Dev is aware of the room, almost hyper aware for better or worse, to the point where he'd stop mid sentence and address people screaming from the crowd during his between song banter, crack wise and flash a toothy smile. Even incredibly complicated riffs and solos couldn't turn his attention away from punters as they jump, sang and threw their hands in the air. Honestly, the guy is so grateful, he walked up to the edge of the stage during "Where we Belong" and thanked individual fans in the front few rows, without missing a note.

Sydney's show was particularly well structured. After kicking off with "Rejoice," the band gradually eased the room into heavier, mosh-inducing songs, and while moments like the coarse, ambient beauty of "Deadhead" provided temporary respite for necks, spines and voice boxes around the room, the show really peaked when grandiose cuts like "Ziltoid Go Home" and "Kingdom" demolished the theatre. In fact, the only slowdown occured during "Bastard" a classic track that rarely graces the stage, leaving Sydney no other option but to stand still and fully absorb the not-oft played piece.

Yet it was his solo rendition of "Ih-Ah" that really defined the evening. Throughout the night, Dev had been battling a ravaged voice in good spirits. Halfway through "Supercrush" he just gave up singing, tore himself to shreds then did the only thing he could - impersonate Marge Simpson. It seemed like "Ih-Ah" could fall apart at any second, but in a beautiful moment of Dev Head fandom, the room united in chorus, helping Dev through as he went to hit a high note and realised, much to his relief, that the falsetto was still working. A professional would have enjoyed the moment and moved on, but dear old shameless Dev is human, so he came back and played the end of the song once more with a gleeful grin, just because he could.

That's why Dev fans are so dedicated. He's unashamedly himself. Few people can go from touching personal stories about longing for family, to flatulent extraterrestrials and back again while effortlessly holding the attention of a thousand people. All he seems to see are his flaws, and yet he's found ways to work through them with a smile and a heavy dose of self-deprecating humour, making his gigs a genuinely uplifting experience.

After more than 20 years in the game, Devin Townsend has found himself in a state of total artistic freedom. He doesn't need to prove himself or his broadly define sound, to anyone and yet he's driven by an unwavering desire to hand as much back to the fans as he possibly can. Live shows aren't an act of going through the motions to make a quick buck. Each gig is unique, because no matter where Dev decides to go, he doesn't hold himself higher than a man with a band, performing to a bunch of new friends in different cities every night. It's something truly beautiful to be a part of, something that makes you forget the world outside the theatre for a couple of hours so you can just let go and smile. And this, to quote one of Dev's remarks towards the end of the gig, is the most important thing of all, because whether your day has been good, bad or downright awful, "it's not the day, it's how you react to it."