Devin Townsend Project - The Retinal Circus
At its heart, The Retinal Circus is a musical, but not quite like any seen before. Following the recent trend of cherry-picking some greatest hits and tying them all up into one neat story, Devin Townsend is doing it to his own past and the results are, unsurprisingly, a little bonkers. The rough and slightly ill-prepared nature of the show is apparent, but only adds to the utterly surreal atmosphere of what was an extraordinary event.
The first face we see is guitar legend Steve Vai, his role as narrator appearing on the three screens above the stage as he attempts to lead us through this bizarre and, frankly, incoherent story. But fans are not watching this for some existential thought-provoking fable, The Retinal Circus is merely an excuse for Devin to go completely over the top with everything.
The track listing is diverse, encompassing nearly all of Townsend's projects. This even includes two tracks from the infamous Strapping Young Lad – complete with Jed Simon making a guest appearance on both. Somewhat inevitably, 'Detox' and 'Love?' are the outstanding highlights of this extravaganza, as much for their rarity as their bone-crushing heaviness.
The majority of the music is taken from the most recent Devin Townsend Project albums, this being recorded in the Epicloud cycle after all. Anneke Van Giersbergen is on hand again to lend her beautiful voice to the proceedings, and when it comes to the likes of 'Addicted!' and in particular 'Grace', there is no one around who can match this pairing for an outrageously brilliant marrying of power and melody.
Beyond the musicians, there is a myriad of entertainment constantly swirling around the stage. A complete cast of extras morph from choir to animals to soldiers to hippies, taking in acrobatics, fire breathing and pole dancing. Not to mention the five foot alien vagina and giant inflatable penis... I'm not going to try and explain the last two, but in the maddening maelstrom of the show, it all seems to make some kind of sense.
The Retinal Circus is crazy, so ridiculously mad that it should be a horrific mess, and yet is all the better for that unhinged, carnival atmosphere. Few artists would have the balls to even think of attempting this, and fewer still able to keep it from crashing into a fiery ball of career suicide. The fact that Devin Townsend has steered this into a successful, enjoyable spectacle is a minor miracle, one to be relished time and time again.