My evening began as I arrived downtown, shortly after the doors had opened and the line that would’ve formed beforehand had already been let in. Earlier in the day, I gave a quick count of all the shows I’ve been to at The Garrick over the last 11 years and I came to learn this concert was my 50th at the venue. This newfound fact made my night more enjoyable than it would’ve been otherwise.
Making my way from my transit stop to the venue, I was more than excited when I noticed the countless fans making their way from all directions toward the same doors. A group of fans in front of me, whom I followed along unintentionally, were also on the way to either see one, or perhaps all of the acts in the line up. They hurried along ahead of me, waiting to see the sets of Swedish heavy metal band Avatar, metal legend Devin Townsend, the EDM/metal hybrid duo Dance With The Dead, and the noise rock band, ’68.
As my ticket was being scanned, I focused ahead to the large, bright sign across the lobby, located all the way at the merch booth that read, “Avatar.” I made a beeline for the merch table to examine what the band brought along to peddle throughout the stops on tour. A particular t-shirt grabbed my attention, so I joined the line. Soon after I stepped in line, I looked to my right and saw people spinning a wheel for a chance to win a merch bundle. This game of Spin-The-Wheel fits directly into the carnival theme of Avatar’s Avatar Country era. Something about the way the sign read “2 Spins for $15” had me hooked. The instantaneous fear of missing out took hold of me, dragging me by the collar of my shirt with money in hand. I marched over from the merch line and joined this new group. My two spins came up empty and without one of the prized a merchandise bundles. Nevertheless, I came out with an Avatar collector coin. By now it was time to take a seat in the theatre until and wait for the lights to fall.
Near the shows start time of 7 pm, the duo’s vocalist and guitarist, Josh Scogin, and the duo’s drummer, Niko Yamada, walked across the stage of The Garrick while the venue was lost in an array of total darkness. The band were last in The Peg just seven months ago where they played in the exact same venue opening up for The Devil Wears Prada (which can be read about here). Just as the last time the duo played this city, they performed a handful of tracks from their two albums and one EP, to the delight of the Winnipeg audience.
The metal-electronic-dance duo, Dance With The Dead, hit the stage at 7:45 on the dot. Not just one genre in particular was showcased during the night, which seemed to send jitters of distaste from people who did not vibe with the mix of the two genres. The two guitarists/DJs first entered on stage playing dueling guitar riffs on subtle electronic beats, with an 80’s horror film feel to the synth, before one member put his guitar down and stood at his DJ equipment. The duo played around forty minutes and by the end, the guitar riffs were put away and the two were delivering a full on EDM performance. It’s worth noting that the partial enthusiasm and doubt went out the door over the course of the set as there was plenty more people in the room applauding Dance With The Dead as the duo waved goodnight and walked off stage.
Where do I even start with The Devin Townsend Acoustic Experience? Sure the “Acoustic Experience” isn’t actually on the tour poster, but that’s exactly what it was, an experience that rarely does happen. At Devin Townsend’s start of 8:40, he walked to the microphone holding what he proclaimed to be his stuffed “tour hot dog.” After Devin was done cracking jokes about the hot dog, he proceeded to speak of his long battle with depression, which resulted in him saying, “I sometimes buy useless things to put on stage and not to be alarmed by the clutter around him,” as he was referring to his hot dog and other stuffed animals on the stage. Devin proceeded to speak briefly on his current unwillingness to be on the road supporting his most recent album, Empath, and pulled out a blue rubber chicken, that made that ridiculous honking sound when squeezed, which he called his “orgasmic chicken.”
Devin Townsend performed a seven song set, featuring the tracks, “Let It Roll” and “Deadhead” from his time in The Devin Townsend Band, an acoustic rendition of the song “Love?” -by his former band, Strapping Young Lad- “Ih-Ah!” from The Devin Townsend Project, which was dedicated to audience member’s sister who passed away. Lastly, Devin performed the tracks “Solar Winds,” “Why?,” and “Life” from his solo works. In between one of the final tracks of his for the night, Devin jokingly put on the song, “Baby Shark” as if he was going to cover it, which ushered the crowd to laugh. Importantly the last thing before leaving the stage, Devin said to the Winnipeg audience he should be back next year with his band to perform a proper show to support his album, Empath.
The time between Devin Townsend stepping off stage and the start of Avatar’s performance was impetuous, and soon enough the clock was coming down on 9:45. I made my way from my seat in the back, through the theatre, to the few rows set for standing. Miraculously, I wiggled my way to the barricade before the set started. I killed the remaining minutes until the start of the show looking around at the crowd strewn about the venue. Everyone, standing or sitting, waited patiently in anticipation for Avatar to finally perform.
In eighteen years as a band, this was the first time Avatar have ever played a headline show in the city. However, the band’s first and most recent time in Winnipeg before the Avatar Country World Tour was just two years ago, in November 2017, in an opening slot for In This Moment and Hollywood Undead.
As 9:45 hit, the house lights faded to a faint dimness before falling into outright darkness. The lights around the stage doused the stage in an orange, pink coat of light as the intro track, “Glory To The King,” began the performance. The band’s guitarist, Jonas Jarlsby, also known as The King, made his way on stage on a lift to a raised platform behind the band’s drummer, John Alfredsson.
Shortly following Jarlsby was the remainder of the band who found their places on stage before the band opened with the number “A Statue of The King.” The second song of the night, “Legend of The King,” featured pyrotechnics on stage in the form of two spark fountains located to the sides of The King, who, at the time, was sitting upon his throne at the front of the stage. I was completely stunned at the spectacle of it!
A few stand out tracks performed during the night were “Paint Me Red,” “Tower,” “Smells Like a Freakshow,” and the two encore tracks, “The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country” and “Hail the Apocalypse.”
I can’t recall after which song it occurred, but vocalist, Johannes Eckerström, a long time avid wrestling fan, asked the Winnipeg crowd the question, “Who caught the Chris Jericho vs. Kenny Omega match the other night?” This question brought the audience to an eruption of cheers. As for anyone who may be unaware, both Jericho and Omega are professional wrestlers, both are from Winnipeg who moved abroad to further their careers. Both Jericho and Omega recently signed with the new wrestling upstart, All Elite Wrestling, based out of Jacksonville, Florida. The two were featured in the companies very first main event match at All Elite Wrestling’s first pay-per-view, Double or Nothing on May 25, 2019 in Las Vegas.
During Avatar’s encore, “The King Welcomes You to Avatar Country,” the band overtook the theatre with a bubble machine flood. I’m not talking a few bubbles. Thousands of bubbles filled the place over the six minutes of the track! Before the night was over, vocalist, Johannes Eckerström was adamant to tell the fans this won’t be the last time Avatar will be here. The night ended with a promise to the packed house; “We will be back, Winnipeg!”