Live Review: Devin Townsend, Caligula’s Horse @ The Forum, Melbourne

11 November 2023 | 11:28 am | Rod Whitfield

For the next 90 minutes plus, Devin Townsend holds the sold-out Forum crowd breathless and spellbound for the duration of the set. 

Devin Townsend @ Forum Melbourne

Devin Townsend @ Forum Melbourne (Credit: Tracy Louise)

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It’s been six long years since the great Dev graced our shores to play loud with a full band for us (he did come for a bunch of fabulous acoustic performances back in 2019), so anticipation has built to a crescendo this night. Will it be worth the wait?

What a silly question. 

But, we have a support set to experience, and what a splendid choice: Brissie’s lords of prog, Devin’s labelmates Caligula’s Horse. And, in a very happy coincidence (or was it?), we see them the same day they release a brand new single, and in the same week, they announce the early 2024 release of their sixth album.

They perform the new single, Golem, for us tonight, and it’s killer – a typically C-Horse melodic powerhouse. Elsewhere, it’s wall-to-wall favourites from their distinguished back-catalogue, although a slightly stripped-back version. Normally a twin-guitar band, they play as a four-piece tonight, but when the single guitar duties fall on the shoulders of the illustrious Sam Vallen, it’s not a problem. As usual, his rhythms are tight as a clenched fist, and his blistering leads, all played on an eye-catching sparkly red guitar, make the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end.

His partner in crime, frontman Jim Grey, is in fine vocal fettle and typically comedic and audience-interactive form tonight. He gazes up at the Forum’s Roman statues and says: “that could be Caligula up there!”

As ever, the music of Caligula’s Horse pounds with grunt, soars with melody and astounds with its dexterity, and the ebb and flow of its dynamics is completely enthralling. Forty minutes slip by way too quickly for a band of this ilk. 

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Yep, the choice of opener for Devin’s 2023 run could not have been more appropriate or enjoyable. 

Now, it’s time for the main event. Within five seconds of the surprise opener, Lightworker, it’s clear that the answer to the above silly question is an extremely emphatic ‘YES!’ For the next 90 minutes-plus, the great man entertains and does so in a style that’s so inimitable and so charming, on top of the obvious musical prowess, that it holds the sold-out Forum crowd breathless and spellbound for the duration of the set. 

Dev’s set tonight is also a somewhat stripped-back affair. After a three-decade career, the guy still tours on a tight budget, especially to such a far-flung destination as Australia. His band tonight is a four-piece (surprised not to see a full-blown keyboardist up there), and this limits the scope of the setlist just a touch.

Of course, when the back catalogue is so monumental (in this case, it’s somewhere in the region of 30 albums, no less), there’s always going to be songs you want to hear left unplayed. One day, he may have to do what his countrymen Rush did for virtually the entire second half of their almost half-century-long career - transition to the ‘Evening With’ format and do two 90-minute sets a night.

What we do get is simply a joyous celebration of the great one’s music and personality. With an artist like Devin Townsend, it doesn’t seem to matter as much that you don’t hear everything you wanted to hear; you simply take what you can get and enjoy every living second of it. What stands out tonight is that this show highlights the sheer schizophrenic genius of the man’s career so far, the sheer contrast in sounds and the neck-snapping juxtaposition of styles inherent in his catalogue.

Especially when he moves straight from the titanic, fist-to-the-face extreme metal of Strapping Young Lad (Almost Again and Aftermath) into the sweet melodic strains of the Disney/musical-inspired Why? And then again in the two-song encore, which comprises of Dev alone onstage with his acoustic guitar, performing arguably the most poptastic moment of his career, Ih Ah! (during which even he laments as to how wonderfully cheesy it is), followed by the monstrous pound of the electrifying SYL favourite Love? which closes proceedings in true blistering style. 

The teasing glimpses we get of Strapping only make us all realise how much we miss that band. If only he were able to run the two arms of his career simultaneously as he did back in the late 90s and into the 2000s. Unfortunately, it’s not to be, and we must think ourselves fortunate to get three tunes in his live set.

All in all, though, tonight is one of those occasions where the artist onstage is utterly adored by the 2000-odd people in attendance and almost unheard of outside those walls. Which is, of course, just the way he likes it (in his own words). Devin Townsend fandom is like being a member of an exclusive/esoteric club, where you feel just a little smug that you’re watching genius unfold before your eyes in an effortless and self-deprecating fashion while the rest of the world carries on its mundane, oblivious existence without. 

Apparently, it’s going to be another good long while before we get to bask in this greatness again, so if you witnessed this tour, suck it in, savour it, make the most of it, and count the days until it returns . . .