Having been elevated to headline status for Reading and Leeds Festivals this August, Biffy Clyro are working hard to prove that they are ready and worthy of their coveted headline spot, starting the year with a 24 date European tour (11 of those in the UK), then jetting off to the US and Canada for another 11 dates, and finally playing 6 European festivals before taking to the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds. Given their usual style of being quite insular when they play (in that they are so into what they are playing that they go into a “band huddle” and they forget they have an audience) and the fact that, despite having six studio albums under their belt, they are fairly new to the UK’s mainstream music chart (although they have been on the rock circuit for years), it is perhaps understandable why there is scepticism as to whether they will be capable of being a memorable Reading and Leeds headliner.
Taking to the stage at the LG Arena in Birmingham for their second UK date, amid the crowd’s cries of “Mon the Biff!” (being the fans’ usual affectionate chant for the band), the band burst onto the stage in their usual topless state to open with ‘Different People’, the first track of their latest album, Opposites. They the thrashed their way through ‘That Golden Rule’ and ‘Sounds Like Balloons’ to the obvious joy of the crowd, who went into a moshing frenzy. It wasn’t until the start of ‘Black Chandelier’ that lead singer Simon Neil said a rather sheepish “hello” to the crowd before leading the first of a number of calmer mass sing-alongs, which befitted the arena setting perfectly.
As the gig progressed, the band emulated the sentiment of Opposites perfectly by expertly steering the crowd through instants of ferocious moshing and “lighter in the air” moments, with the set list veering from one extreme to the other in a dizzying, but gratifying, haze. A frantic ‘Modern Magic Formula’ was followed by a beautiful rendition of ‘Opposite’, before bassist James Johnston cheekily tried to stoke up a fight between the fans of the previous opening night (in Newcastle) with the Birmingham fans with the usual baiting of “they were good but I think you’ll be better”. After playing ‘Justboy’ from their first album, Blackened Sky, the band launched into ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’ from Puzzle, at which point a massive circle pit opened up in front of the stage and the fans went ballistic. The stops and starts of this track were played by the band so tightly that you wouldn’t have even got a gnat’s whisker in between them. It was absolutely breathtaking.
On a roll, and obviously warming to the task of bringing the audience into the band, Neil declared that he wanted to see the whole arena bounce for ‘Bubbles’, and the audience duly obliged, jumping and singing this popular track as if their lives depended on it. After calming the pace down with ‘Victory Over The Sun’, the band jokingly berated the fans in the seated area of the arena (most of which had been alternating between sitting and standing, but who were almost all seated for the last track) by stating, “You in the seats! You need to get up! This is a f*****g rock concert!” And to the opening bars of ‘A Day Of…’ from the album The Vertigo Of Bliss, the seated fans leapt up and went for it!
Following another mass sing-along for their newest single release, ‘Biblical’, and ‘Spanish Radio’, the band launched into ‘There’s Such Thing As A Jaggy Snake’ from Infinity Land, at the end of which Neil scrawled the number 26 on a backboard and showed it to the crowd before the band perfectly executed 26 chops to close the song. The band, including the backing musicians but excluding Neil, all exited the stage while Neil walked out onto a runway and into the crowd to play an acoustic version of ‘God and Satan’. His performance was so captivating that it was almost as if he was playing to just me in a room. He was then joined by bassist Johnston for ‘The Thaw’ and ‘Machines’, with both band members providing an equally entrancing acoustic performance.
This didn’t last long, however, due to the sudden frenzy of dance-style lazers, bass and beats that introduced ‘Glitter and Trauma’, which led the audience into a 3-track mini-mosh including the brilliant ‘Who’s Got A Match’ and ‘The Joke’s On Us’. And then it happened: the “Coldplay moment”. The band struck up for ‘Many Of Horror’ and the crowd blew the roof off of the arena as they joined in with the band, singing at the tops of their lungs. Finishing the set with ‘Picture a Knife Fight’ and an absolutely outstanding rendition of ‘The Captain’ the band retreated backstage to more shouts of “Mon the Biff!”
After some frantic rearrangements of the stage area by the band’s techies, Neil reappeared for the encore at the top of a set of stairs, to a spot which appeared to be at the base of a spine. The band then played ‘Skylight’ and the more upbeat ‘Stingin’ Belle’ before saving ‘Mountains’ for their last track of the night, which elicited more singing and bouncing from the crowd.
Playing a wide range of tracks from all six of their studio albums, and performing a perfectly balanced set list ranging from heavy rock to sing-along ballads, the band were fantastically tight and threw themselves completely into the gig. They have obviously worked on the “insular effect”, and whilst they still have these moments (which have obviously benefitted the band’s tightness, and which are necessary to maintain that tightness) they are now more mindful of the fact they have an audience too, and are more comfortable and adept at bringing the audience into this world. This, coupled with the interesting nature of many of their tracks due to their trademark of mixing unusual time signatures, can only lead to one conclusion…
Are they worthy of a headline spot at Reading and Leeds, and will they be memorable?
Absolutely, especially if they perform as fantastically as they did at this gig, mixing moshing with sing-along material, and providing a tight performance whilst making the audience feel that they are part of the band. If they do, their slot is sure to be a hit with their fans and should also bring many new fans into the fold.