Biffy Clyro are basically a UK national treasure at this point and a worthy one too. They spent their first several years as post-hardcore/math-rock weirdos across albums like 'Vertigo Bliss' and 'Infinity Land', whereas records like 2007's 'Puzzle' and 2009's 'Only Revelations' saw the group achieve melodic rock perfection but still with the bite of their early days. All these ingredients make for a band which can play to masses of people and yet deliver a fierce sincerity to every single member of the audience. Tonight's performance at Leeds' First Direct Arena is no different as they hit the stage in support of their newest album 'Ellipsis.'
Emo heroes Brand New get things started tonight with a primal set that makes this arena setting feel like a basement show in how they savagely press guitars against amps for scratchy feedback, mosh pits get going and the bitter, miserable nature of Brand New's material. Playing a 'The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Of Me' heavy set, with songs as emotional and raw as 'Jesus' and 'Sowing Season' it's pretty easy for Brand New to build a strong connection with the audience. They're a band worthy of headlining places like this and whilst they're playing, it really feels like it's their own gig.
Speaking of primal, despite all the success, the gloss of their monolithic stage show, Biffy Clyro are purely animalistic when it comes to their performance. It's rare across the two hours they play for tonight, that frontman Simon Neil isn't headbanging, jerking limbs or thrashing at his guitar. Ben Johnston is a beast on the kit, hitting each beat with impenetrable muscle and his bassist twin, James Johnston, will constantly be skipping around and stomping with Neil. All of this amongst colossal, colour-changing rectangles and dazzling lasers. Visually this show is never anything less than stunning.
As for songs, tonight, a hefty nine tracks from 'Ellipsis' get aired tonight, which would be pushing it for most bands, giving so much attention to one album when there's another several that people will love; however, Biffy manage to balance out plenty of older bangers against newer cuts. 'Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies', a track once their most huge song, makes a surprisingly early, but welcomed appearance. Almost ten years on, whether it's the epic guitar stabs, the haunting choir harmonies or the overall cathartic intensity, everything about this song is still hair-raising. Likewise, when it comes to Biffy's sweeter moments a track like 'Bubbles' remains as infectious and joyous as ever with its cutesy, sweet noodling and souring chorus.
Old school, die-hard Biffy fans may be disappointed that out of their first three records from their underground days, only the heartbroken 'Justboy' gets an airing, but Biffy have managed to carry everything that made them so great in the first place into their newer material and arena setting. There may not be as many wacky time signatures or piercing screams as once was but the energy, muscle and drive are omnipresent. Tracks like 'The Captain' and 'Stingin' Belle' may be anthems, but they still carry a punch and despite having a huge following these days, Biffy still play like they're underdogs, having a hunger, vigour and something to prove.
Of course, it's not all toughness, as tender songs like 'Many A Horror' and 'Machines' make their inevitable appearance. With the lights going down, and O'Neil mostly performing these songs solo, acoustically, this enormous venue suddenly feels a whole lot more intimate with a sense that Neil is playing for you and you alone. 'Machines' in particular is life affirming with its lyrics specifically detailing a rediscovery for how precious life is and how O'Neil delivers them in delicate, heart-warming fashion.
Not just a highly entertaining show, but a refreshing one too. It's great to see a band as huge as Biffy Clyro, not be hindered by their success and still give it their all, despite the fact they could put in half the effort and still have people flocking to see them. Biffy Clyro spent years getting to where they are now and those years are the cornerstone of Biffy's strength, enabling them to bring grit and guts no matter how glitzy the show. Mon the Biff!
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