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By Peter Atkinson, Contributor
Tuesday, September 20, 2016 @ 1:40 PM

The "Transcending The Coma" Tour With FALLUJAH

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Photos By Peter Atkinson

The Transcending The Coma Tour offered an enlightening matchup of progressive metal whimsy and virtuosity – contrasting the playful gymnastics of THE DEVIN TOWNSEND PROJECT (DTP) with the clinical technicality and conceptual ambitiousness of BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME (BTBAM), with FALLUJAH serving as the more brute-force lead-in.

When the tour rolled into the spacious Fillmore in Silver Spring, MD, it was DTP’s free-spirited but muscular hijinx that proved most enjoyable – and by a large margin – though it offered further proof of just how impressive BTBAM’s chops are, and showcased the fearlessness of the band as it performed the mind-boggling 2015 “prog opera” Coma Ecliptic in its entirety.

But what it also demonstrated, on this evening anyway, is that while BTBAM is a collective of undeniably great players and musicians, DTP is that and more. The band - and namesake frontman Devin Townsend in particular, as the de facto master of ceremonies - also is a group of artistes and showmen. So while BTBAM impressed, DTP engaged, amused and, most importantly, entertained. And that made a big difference.

BTBAM certainly seems to like a challenge – which, in some ways, can actually work against it in a live setting. The last time I saw the quintet, opening for MESHUGGAH in 2014, its hour-long set featured just five songs and was a bit of an endurance test. Coma Ecliptic upped the ante with its 11-song, 70-minute, Labyrinthian excursion that in many ways recalls vintage YES.

The set opened with Tommy Rogers’ jazz bar piano and closed with the crash of a gong courtesy of drummer Blake Richardson, with a bit of just about everything else - from cascading riffs, head-bobbing hooks and harmonized guitar freak outs to noodley jams, dueling keyboards, Rogers’ Jekyll-and-Hyde vocal dramatics and plenty of cinematic, even show-tuney, grandeur - in between. It was a lot to digest, for the audience and, especially, the band.

Playing a full album – not to mention one as theatrical and complex as Coma Ecliptic – front to back is exacting work. So as BTBAM concentrated on getting the myriad parts, time changes and shifts of mood done right – and, in Rogers’ and bassist Dan Briggs’ cases, also bouncing back and forth to their respective keyboard setups – it left very little room for spontaneity, frivolity or the sort of stage energy and interaction that makes a compelling performance something more than just, well, a performance.

It was laudably meticulous and precise, but really only became genuinely fun when the occasional rousing crescendos or fits of groove shook things up. And as BTBAM was backlit only by a series of white strobes and search lights, the band often played either in shadow or amid blinding flashes, which added to the sense of distance between it and the crowd and left the set, as a whole, seeming rather cold - despite all the instrumental electricity.

Devin Townsend, on the other hand, strode out with his bandmates and offered a gracious “Hi!” before launching into “Night”, and played like he was damn glad to be there – despite a “fucked up” ankle that was bothering him enough to make mention of it several times during the set. His obvious enthusiasm, though, and sheer spunk were infectious from the outset and only seemed to grow as the show went on. As the crowd egged Townsend on to play “One! More! Song!” after DTP finished up with the glorious “Higher” from its new album Transcendence, he had to sheepishly apologize for the venue curfew that prevented it, and left the stage to a lingering ovation after high-fiving most of the front row.

Everything about DTP’s performance felt festive and joyous, mirroring Townsend’s loose, easy-going personality and goofy humor. The fans got in on the act as well, as evidenced by the squid costumes, Ziltoid hand puppets and odd assortment of hats attendees wore, which Townsend not only acknowledged but embraced – at one point grabbing a fez from the crowd to put on over the squid hat he already had borrowed.

Clowning around aside, Townsend and company flat out rocked. Despite opening with one of Townsend’s oldest solo tunes, DTP’s 12-song set focused on more anthemic tracks from the band’s recent works Transcendence, Sky Blue, Epicloud and Addicted, as well as the two Ziltoid albums with the insane combo of “Ziltoid Goes Home” and “March Of The Poozers”. Townsend slowed things down to get Bics flicking – or, in most cases, phone lights flashing - and arms waving with Epicloud’s big ballad “Where We Belong” and went the solo acoustic route for the “hippy campfire bullshit” singalong “Ih-Ah”. He also had a little fun by incorporating lines from STRAPPING YOUNG LAD’s “Detox” - which one dude up front kept hollering for – into the song, making for the rather absurd juxtaposition “So here's all my hopes and aspirations, nothing but puke … I'm so in love with you, how could I ever be untrue?” that got a big laugh.

And where BTBAM’s lighting was stark, grim and minimal, the ample bright pinks, oranges, purples, greens and blues that accompanied DTP’s set accentuated the carnival-like atmosphere of the performance and made it all the more inviting and, better yet, fun.

The Bay Area progressive deathcore quintet FALLUJAH got things started with a 40-minute set that was full of atmosphere, twirling hair, guitar wankery and frontman Alex Hoffman’s imposing roar that didn’t muster much a reaction until near the end when the crowd thickened out a bit. The band probably would have been a better fit on the Summer Slaughter tour, here it felt like a square peg trying to hammer itself into a round hole.

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