Biffy Clyro + Brand New | Gig Review
The SSE Arena, Belfast • Sunday 27 November ’16
By Gerard Walton • Photography: Bernie McAllister
Biffy Clyro returned to Belfast in style at the SSE Arena only five months after a memorable Belsonic slot. The Cool FM van outside was pumping preparatory Biffy tunes for those who were unaware of what was to come. With fantastic support from Brand New, this was a night to shout along to every word. And even if you didn’t like the music, the lights were a sight to behold, particularly on the slower numbers.
Brand New, a group of New York emo rockers, would have been the more likely headliners of the two a dozen or so years ago. Deja Entendu was the album that was causing quite a stir in the rock world, and singles like ‘Sic Transit Gloria… Glory Fades’, itself given a welcome dusting off here, getting regular MTV rotation.
They started off with the disarmingly gentle, at least at first, ‘Sowing Season’. What starts off as a lone gently strummed electric guitar gave way to the first of many blood-curdling screams over the next hour. As my friend remarked once or twice, “They need to cheer up.” Of course, that wouldn’t be the same band we know and love, but he had a point!
The musicianship was top notch throughout, with a second drummer for the heaviest numbers, Gasoline in particular, ensuring maximum gut-punching. Anyone who likes Biffy Clyro’s darker moments would find plenty to savour here, and they have an album due out in the coming months.
On my taxi down, I was trying to describe what sort of show Biffy Clyro would put on (he had never heard of them), and on top of the normal musical descriptions I confidently predicted they’d be sweaty and topless for most of the show. In fairness, Simon started out with some kind of almost-professor-style gown, but that didn’t last long. Normal service quickly resumed.
As for the lights, well, instead of the normal guitar tuning you’d get at a rock show beforehand, we got what I would call “stage tuning.” All manner of platforms, stage extensions, lighting backdrops added on. Brand New’s props consisting of flowers wrapped around the mic, promptly ripped off at the end, but Biffy meant business. Sure enough, ‘Wolves Of Winter’ kicked in to a barrage of flashing lights, adding to the already explosive guitar-drum cocktail.
‘Living Is A Problem’ was spiced up further with an a capella snippet of ‘Thank You For Being A Friend’ by Andrew Gold. ‘Sounds Like Balloons’ kept the fast paced anthems coming, but ‘Biblical’ was the first to slow it down a bit. Of course, a slightly slower anthem is still ripe for a singalong, as the SSE crowd proved.
‘Spanish Radio’ was an interesting choice from previous album Opposites, with their extra tour guitarist adding what would have been trumpet parts on the record into the mix, reminding us that three people cannot quite replicate some of Biffy’s studio tricks. Ironically this was also the point for Simon’s guitar to fail him, with a nifty mid-song switch required. Fortunately he seemed to have about 15 to choose from.
The new album, Ellipsis was a somewhat mixed listen for me, but it was fascinating to see how the songs translated to the stage. ‘Howl’ was one such track that sounded much more beefed up. My own highlights, ‘In The Name Of The Wee Man’ and ‘On A Bang’, were just as ferocious as on record. Even the slower numbers such as ‘Rearrange’ benefitted from a lights show straight out of the Coldplay festival playbook, with green-and-blue lasers adding a nice dramatic touch to songs that practically burst into helpless tears right out of the gate.
The only album that wasn’t covered among the incredible 27 songs was Vertigo Of Bliss, and even ‘With Aplomb’ was teased a little bit at the start of ‘Many Of Horror’, showing the band haven’t changed all that much even with their monstrous success in recent years. ‘Justboy’ from the debut Blackened Sky was extremely well received, and in a moment that I never thought I’d see, ‘Wave Upon Wave Upon Wave’ from ‘Infinity Land’, preceded by Simon manically repeating the title over and over into the microphone, was played in a stadium setting. Minus the screams – that was left to the audience, or at least those who knew the words!
The band has always shared vocals around, particularly in a live setting, and twin brothers Ben and James Johnston were not shy in taking the lead themselves. Songs like ‘Bubbles’ and ‘Medicine’ are very much a group effort. The latter in particular was an interesting moment, as Simon retreated behind the drum kit with his acoustic, leaving the twins instrument-less out front to harmonise.
‘Machines’, as ever, was the truly intimate acoustic interlude – this time with Simon taking to the extended platform and the crowd rushing to get as close as possible, as if he were Jesus. He certainly has the beard for it at least.
‘Stingin’ Belle’ was the big rocking finish that the show deserved. The band seem to really enjoy themselves in Belfast – this is the fourth different venue I’ve seen them in – and this was undoubtedly the best of the bunch. As a stadium band, there can be few better out there, and they’ve done it without totally disowning their roots. As they reminded the crowd on their stage exit, “We are Biffy fuckin’ Clyro.” You could hear the passion even as they were probably about to collapse backstage. Job done, and there could surely be no complaints after such a stellar show.