Ayrshire trio Biffy Clyro, once staunch exponents of an enduring kind of heads-down, shirt-off rock simplicity, have – both on their new album Opposites, a first UK number one for the group, and within this supporting arena tour – been invested with the typical urge of mid-career and relentlessly successful rock artists to make things a lot more complicated.
Where their last two albums’ well-wrought artisan edge was defiantly Celtic in flavour and enough to bring them substantial crossover success, this time out the spiny, big-budget Yggdrasil of a tree which grows through the centre of two massive screens and doubles as a raised podium hints at ambitions on the more epic scale of Norse gods of rock.
It’s fair to say that while the new double album occasionally trips and stumbles on its own lofty ambition, the live arena is the perfect setting to hear it as it was intended – loud and responded to with predictable uproar by the thousands-strong capacity homecoming crowd. Relatively early on in the set, when singer and guitarist Simon Neil had preceded recent single “Biblical” with the exhortation that “’this is a rock ‘n’ roll show, so everyone get on your f*cking feet,” the command was listened to and followed by all those in the seating banks fringing the hall.
The two-hour set was bottom-heavy with new material, including the comeback single “Black Chandelier” and “Biblical” itself, soon segueing into the still-unexpected African guitar stylings of “Spanish Radio” and the stand-out sonic wind tunnel effect of “The Thaw”. So far so powerful, although Neil’s resolute solo acoustic takes on “God & Satan” and “Machines” (chorused back as if the crowd were desperate to snatch the words from his mouth) signalled a change of pace which brought an already-simmering show to boiling point.
“Glitter & Trauma” pulsed in on a volley of red lasers and an almost club-ready 4/4 beat, and from there the gig thundered to a finale, its three main protagonists (Neil and brothers James and Ben Johnston on bass and drums) all typically bare-chested, in stark contrast to the fully-clothed pianist and second guitarist lurking in the shadows. That the uninspiring “The Joke’s On Us” and the agreeable glam of “Picture a Knife Fight” didn’t satisfy in the same way as epic (and X-Factor-surviving) ballad “Many of Horror” or the swaggering anthemics of “Mountains” seemed unimportant in this context.
Had Nirvana survived to smooth off their darker edges for an arena audience, this is surely what they would sound like.