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Biffy Clyro, Shepherd’s Bush Empire, gig review: Scottish arena fillers achieve a vertigo of bliss in an intimate setting

Purveyors of quirky anthemic arena rock go back to their roots in more ways than one with an intimate performance in aid of War Child

Remfry Dedman
Saturday 25 February 2017 06:45
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Biffy Clyro are one of the very best bands that the UK has ever produced and the show was a wonderful summary of the band’s career to date
Biffy Clyro are one of the very best bands that the UK has ever produced and the show was a wonderful summary of the band’s career to date

Just three months previous to this evening’s performance at the 2,000 capacity Shepherd’s Bush Empire, Biffy Clyro played a magnificent, bombastic, sold out show at London’s O2 Arena. The former Millennium Dome holds 10 times the number of people crammed into this plush West London theatre and there’s a palpable sense of excitement and occasion to proceedings, with cries of ‘Mon the Biff’ erupting minutes after doors open.

The band has become accustomed to playing large UK shows and deservedly so. They spent at least a decade trawling the country’s toilet circuit, seemingly on a mission to play every venue in the land from London to Llandudno. As a result, the band has built a dedicated following the oldfashioned way – what some would even refer to refer to as ‘the right way’: through writing fantastic songs and performing them relentlessly in front of anyone willing to listen.

Tonight is one of 12 gigs put on for War Child, with acts as diverse as Tinie Tempah, The 1975, Richard Hawley and Basement Jaxx all playing intimate settings for a noble cause. It’s gratifying to note that tickets alone for these shows have already raised over £500,000 for the charity.

This evening is a special treat for those aware of Biffy Clyro’s past life as a jagged, angular, complex and idiosyncratic math rock three piece. For one night only, the band is putting in a double-shift, supporting themselves with an opening set made up exclusively of material from the first three studio albums: Blackened Sky, The Vertigo of Bliss and Infinity Land. Released on indie label Beggars Banquet in an incredibly fertile period from 2002 to 2004, the music contained within these records is astonishing, influencing an entire underground movement of intricate, wilfully convoluted bands that are still continuing to push boundaries today.

However, in Biffy Clyro’s current arena-conquering incarnation, songs from this era of the band are rarely aired live, so as the lights go down and the deceptive electronic intro that ushers in Glitter and Trauma rumbles over the PA, anticipation on the floor is at fever pitch. When the band themselves crash in with a first pulverising power chord, the room erupts in a dazzling retina-scorching display of lights and all-enveloping wall of sound. They may not be playing an arena this evening, but they’ve brought enough lights to fill one anyway; light shows rarely warrant much extensive attention, but Biffy Clyro’s retina-scorching display is an astonishing blitz on the senses.

(Roger Goodgroves / Rex)

The barbed, serrated edges of songs such as ‘Toys, Toys, Toys, Choke, Toys, Toys, Toys’ and ‘There is No Such Thing as a Jagged Snake’ haven't blunted a bit and act as a thrilling reminder of just how peculiar this band used to be. ‘57’ is warmly received by the crowd, easily being the most recognisable song from this era as a staple of the band’s setlist (and deservedly so). The highlight of not just this set but the entire show is a beautiful rendition of ‘All the Way Down: Prologue Chapter 1’. A strong contender for best ‘ballad’ the band have ever written, vocal interplay between all three members during the song’s crescendo is masterful and makes one wish this sort of harmony and experimentation was as prevalent in the band’s latter work as it was in their early days.

But let’s be honest, even if one does prefer the slightly more unhinged material from those early albums, it’s hard to deny Biffy Clyro’s current abilities as one hell of a phenomenal arena rock act. The aforementioned unrelenting toilet-circuit trudgery the band underwent in their halcyon days taught them everything they’d ever need to know about become the staggering live proposition that they are today.

Biffy Clyro have perfected the art of crafting quintessential, gigantic sing-along anthems and sprinkling them with quirky, distinctive characteristics unique to themselves. These sorts of qualities are what mark out the great bands from the good and there’s no mistaking what-so-ever that Biffy Clyro are a great band. Tonight, they play a number of songs that could quite comfortably end a set in any other band’s repertoire. ‘Biblical’, ‘Mountains’, ‘That Golden Rule’, ‘Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies’ could all conceivably be the zenith of most live shows, but they’re thrown out here with wild abandon.

The band might be considered more palatable these days but songs such as ‘On A Bang’, ‘Wolves of Winter’ and ‘In the Name of the Wee Man’ show that they do still have the ability to be atypical, especially for a band who have just scored their second consecutive number one album in the UK charts. If there are dips this evening, they are minor, and they mainly seem to emerge on gentler material from latest album Ellipses. Whilst the likes of ‘Medicine’and ‘Re-arrange’ might sound very current right now, it’ll be interesting to see if they remain a staple of the band’s sets in the years to come. But it’s a minor quibble and for every drop in momentum, there’s a ‘Victory Over the Sun’ or a ‘Different People’ or a ‘Who’s Got a Match?’ to lift the energy and get things back on track.

Biffy Clyro are one of the very best bands that the UK has ever produced and tonight’s show is a wonderful summary of the band’s career to date. Few bands have worked harder, or managed to keep an extraordinarily high level of consistency whilst constantly striving to experiment and change their sound. Whether they’re being awkward, angular and contrary or whether writing anthems intent on shaking the foundations of stadiums, Biffy Clyro are kings in a field of one. Mon the Biff.

You can donate to War Child via their website. Biffy Clyro headlines the Saturday night of Download Festival

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