Blink, and you could’ve missed it, Between the floods of East London, and Jubilee stragglers with their beetle baggage, like so many blue, red and white turtles shuffling off a rain-soaked beach. It would have been understandable if you walked right by the sidestreet, the alley off the sidestreet, the dimly lit entrance hall. The Borderline’s reputation for diamonds in the rough has long since outgrown its size – and, from the view descending the stairwell into the venue tonight, its capacity.
Then as much could be said for the music squeezed into tonight’s acoustic show. Since his return to recording, Devin Townsend has spent four years crafting a genre-spanning concept quadrilogy, which climaxed in a series of sell-out shows across the capital last year. Danny Cavanagh, meanwhile, will be better known to most as ‘im out of Anathema, the celebrated doom band more known these days for their deceptively subtle progressive tunes.
So it’s little surprise how he thrives in here. The filigrees of melodic loops, coaxed by Cavanagh into ‘Fragile Dreams’, go down beautifully – as well as a raucous crowd singalong to his cover of Tenacious D’s ‘Tribute’. However, as deft as touch as he has, the crowning moment has to be when Danny is joined by brother Vincent, for a stripped back version of ‘Thin Air’. Vincent’s keening vocals stretch and twist over his older brother’s ever-threading acoustic currents. Even considering last year’s Islington Chapel performance, you’d be hard pressed to keep this out of Anathema’s top ten most beautiful moments.
At last night’s premier for new DVD ‘By A Thread’, Devin Townsend fans got a taste of the epic, sublime and, at times, ridiculous metal theatre hosted by his Devin Townsend Project. While tonight the Borderline standing room only, ahead of the band’s biggest ever headliner at Download festival, it surely can’t be from any expectation of streamers, Ziltoid for President balloons, or a giant fibreglass cheeseburger. Yet, Townsend arrives onstage dressed to impress, eschewing the t-shirt and slacks of previous acoustic shows for a sharp suit. And backed by a films of landscapes, fractal images, and of billions of stars whirling around a vast galaxy… he promptly goes offstage, so the second time he can take the applause like the cocky rockstar cliché.
In the main, it’s request driven set – and a remarkably reasonable one, considering the temptation in Townsend’s heavier back catalogue. Acoustic favourites such as ‘Sister’ and folk adaptation ‘Let It Roll’ rub shoulders with stripped down takes on poppier fare like ‘Ih-Ah’, as Townsend fields the garbled suggestions and distorted heckling with good-natured, self-effacing aplomb. Certainly, there are versions of the more complex tracks such as single ‘Juular’, and Strapping Young Lad‘s ‘Satan’s Ice Cream Truck’, for which he brings a fan from the audience to help out on the Death Metal vocals. Yet this is the only time that any of these songs feel shoehorned into the pared back format.
However, while the soft thrum of ‘Terminal’ lulls the audience into the expected silence, the climax actually comes when Townsend unveils a new track from upcoming album Epicloud. ‘Where We Belong’, is a perfect fit – epic and loud in the sense of effortlessly anthemic, rather than full of fret-twitching layers – and missing not the production or the volume, but only the roar of a thousand voices belting the chorus back at him. A great omen for the new record, it only goes to show it’s not necessarily the size of your subwoofer that matters. Little beats the thrill you get from a hidden gem, but sometimes, to find one, all it takes is a fresh perspective.