Scottish hard rock trio Biffy Clyro shake the foundations on an extraordinary night - review

5
Bassist James Johnston of Biffy Clyro
Bassist James Johnston of Biffy Clyro Credit: Roger Goodgroves/REX/Shutterst​ock

Some bands have been known to end sets in a state of dishabille. Scottish trio Biffy Clyro started their show stripped to the waist, all taut muscle and tattoos. They looked like they meant business … and sounded it too.  I feared for my hearing as they attacked the intimate 2000 capacity O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire as if they were playing a stadium. Performing during BRITS week for conflict zone charity War Child, they played like the last band standing in a war zone, a storm of lights, volume and intense, pummelling, spirit soaring hard rock. It was a reminder of what an incredibly potent format the power trio can be. Guitar, bass, drums: what more do you really need?

At the end of an extraordinary night, the venerable old Empire felt like it was being shaken to its foundations by foot-stomping singalongs. It demonstrated how popular and accessible this intense and awkward outfit have actually become. But the evening started with a reminder of the band’s raw roots. “We are Biffy Clyro, circa 2003 to 2005,” singer-guitarist Simon Neil announced as the trio launched into an introductory hour long set of their oldest material.

Simon Neil of Biffy Clyro Credit: Roger Goodgroves/REX/Shutterst​ock

Biffy started out some fifteen years ago as a visceral, often dissonant and experimental outfit allied to nu metal. It was during that time that the Kilmarnock band first ventured to London to play O2 Shepherd's Bush and failed to sell it out. “There weren’t so many people here in 2003,” noted bassist James Johnston. “We’re back to get the glory we always felt we deserved,” added Neil. It has to be said that if they really were this good in their early days, then success was only a matter of time.

Neil is a fantastic singer, with a range that encompasses raw grunge howling to sweet pop melodiousness, and the commitment to make you believe he means every note. His fuzzed up, distorted guitar playing switched deftly between highly charged rhythm and bursts of twisted lead riffs. The rhythm section are twin brothers, James and Ben Johnston, who played as if psychically linked, Both sang too, adding weight to chorus chants that provided melodic respite amidst the heavy metal carnage.

Drummer Ben Johnston of Biffy Clyro Credit: Roger Goodgroves/REX/Shutterst​ock

When the elements of a power trio are this well balanced and so tightly connected, the force they are capable of generating is extraordinary. I have been watching rock bands all my life, and when they get it right, it never fails to blow me away.

For their second set, Biffy introduced two extra musicians on guitar and keyboards, standing in darkness at the edges of the stage to shadow parts. It scaled up and widened the sound, without distracting from the primal core. It was a triumphal set drawn from recent albums, where the band have blended their attacking instincts with more emotionally resonant song forms. Along with the likes of Muse and Kings Of Leon, Biffy Clyro are amongst a handful of charismatic, inventive guitar bands keeping rock sexy. At this small gig, they showed they have what it takes to be one of the biggest bands in the world.

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