Biffy Clyro – London O2 Arena, 3rd April 2013
The last time I saw Biffy Clyro was a slightly odd experience. They were main support to Metallica at last years Download Festival and were greeted not by hostility but by total apathy. While there were many fans of the band at the front, around us stood hundreds of Metallica fans, all determinedly rooted to the spot, arms folded, po-faced, complaining about ‘indie wankers’ and ‘this used to be Monsters of Rock, you know’. Ironically, Biffy are both massive fans of Metallica but were also there at the thrash behemoths personal request. But why let facts get in the way of a good ol’ whinge, eh? As time went by, Biffy’s down-tuned staccato riffs, tight rhythms and anthemic choruses started to visibly creep under some skins, and by the time they left the stage, the very same moaners were forced to grudgingly admit that they were in fact ‘alright, actually’.
You would think that this wouldn’t be an issue in front of their own crowd, but again, they have hearts and minds to conquer. Their sound has changed markedly from the early days to now, and accusations of selling out are levelled at the band with every successful single. It’s almost as if those people who were there at the start find their success unpalatable, like they wish they’d stayed in the pubs of Scotland rather than enjoying the commercial baubles they now do…which is madness. They have the songs, the stagecraft and they appear to have something to prove.
Tonight, therefore, represents something of an acid test for the trio from Kilmarnock. While they’ve played the big support slots and headlined Wembley Arena and Sonisphere in their own right, tonight, one feels, will see them take a major step into the echelons of the massive. Their growing reputation as one of the best live bands in Britain is about to be tested on one of the biggest stages. They arrive here at the end of a European jaunt that has seen them take in Scandinavia, Germany, Holland, France and Belgium before arriving in the UK to take on the enormo-domes.
They’ve brought City and Colour with them as support. Dallas Green’s a very talented man and we arrive in what I thought would be ample time to see them. However, being as we had to walk about three miles around North Greenwich to find the appropriate entrance and then form an orderly scrum at the toilets, we only catch the last two songs. We are however, in plenty of time for the main event.
The opening chords of ‘Different People’ herald the arrival of the headliners. Simon Neill shuffles on, stripped to the waist, his guitar up under his chin and delivers the opening lines, side-lit, his shadow projected many times its normal size on an enormous curtain. As the guitar riff comes in and the Johnston brothers join the fun, the curtain drops away to reveal a stage set modeled on a spine, brightly lit veins and capillaries shooting off it, flashing over images of pulsing lungs. Cameras cast the faces of the band members onto giant screens behind them as they immediately hit their stride, sounding massive, filling every inch of the cavernous arena.
They follow it with live staple ‘That Golden Rule’, before a trio of tunes from Opposites, including lead single ‘Black Chandelier’, which showcases their close vocal harmonies as well as the heavy riffing that characterises so many of their songs. A trip back into the archives proves they haven’t forgotten about the old fans, and they rip through ‘Justboy’ with as much spirit and verve as they ever have.
The emotional core of the set comes with an aching, tender acoustic version of God and Satan, performed by Neill alone on one of the two ramps that project into the crowd. It becomes a mass sing-along, like the biggest and best open-mic night you ever went to, before the band come back together for ‘The Thaw’, which sees white confetti rain from the roof. The acoustic comes out again for a rendition of ‘Machines’ which again sees Neill singing only half of the words, looking genuinely touched to have his verses sung back to him by 18,000 rapturous voices.
For a show of this magnitude, the stage itself is part of the performance and when the band sidle off briefly, the spine starts to flash, red lasers piercing the darkness as strobes and citrus-coloured lights stream down the capillaries. This is the techno intro to ‘Glitter and Trauma’ and it’s unexpected and utterly thrilling, as is the song itself. ‘Who’s Got A Match?’ follows and is just as incendiary as the title would suggest, the whole arena on it’s feet and bouncing.
The mood is calmed again with ‘Many Of Horror’, a song so good that it’s licensing to X-Factor couldn’t sully it’s beauty and it’s as if it were written for occasions like this. Neill again barely sings a word, strangers hug one another as they bawl along to the massive chorus and, as all great music can do, there is a feeling of one-ness, of shared experience, unity. They leave just enough space between the closing chords hanging in the air and launching into ‘Picture a Knife Fight’ for people to remember that they’re a proper rock band, before finishing with ‘The Captain’. The venue shakes again as everyone takes to their feet, Neill charging back and forth, arching his back before lurching forward, bending double, sweat pouring from him. They’ve left it all on the stage tonight, each band member, and they thoroughly deserve the standing ovation they receive.
They return for three encores, a downbeat, synth heavy ‘Skylight’, a spiky ‘Stingin’ Belle’ and an uplifting ‘Mountains’. On the way out, people just shake their heads as if they struggle to process what they’ve just seen. What they’ve seen is a band elevate themselves to the big leagues, into the realms of festival headliners, of stadium shows and taking on America. They’ve seen, dare I say it, the best live band in Britain.
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