The Scottish three-piece attract new followers at Belfast's Mandella Hall
Being kind, I would say that I was never a big fan of Biffy Clyro. Being precise, I had been heard to make fun of their name, and speak of them as 'useless bumgazers'. As a fair man, however, I prepared myself as best I could for their show at Queen's University's Mandella Hall.
Starting with Puzzle, the band’s 2007 album, I worked my way backwards through their discography. There were a few standouts – Who’s got a match?, Glitter and Trauma – but for the most part I was growing ever fearful of my abilities to provide an unbiased review.
The problem was that they didn’t sit comfortably into a genre. At times Biffy Clyro feel like prog metal, at other times mediocre indie. With the healthy perspective of hindsight, however, I can see that there was no need to worry.
It becomes evident early on in the gig – probably while openers, Fighting With Wire, are still onstage – that the fans gathered to capacity this evening are here for one thing and one thing only. FWW are well received, and justifiably so, but neither local pride nor their sharp, energised set count for much with this crowd.
The relationship between band and crowd at a Biffy Clyro gig is startlingly intimate. I get the feeling at one point that the band might comfortably sit out the rest of the set, providing the chords and drumbeats, and the audience would have happily done the rest, harmonising with themselves.
The opener, 'Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies', sets the standard for the rest of the show. A full minute-and-a-half of one-note strumming, one-cymbal striking, with no discernable musical timing. It's an odd choice for an opener, and a tad alienating. But not for their fervent fans. Biffy had taken off, and the crowd was right beside them for the duration.
For such a frenetic, high-energy set, it's quite surprising to notice how subdued, how relaxed the band are. Vocalist Simon Neil’s hip-swaying and half-dozen requisite freak-out stumbles are the exception rather than the rule.
It's an evening of catharsis for all involved. The small particulars that had annoyed me during the week have no significance. Lyrics I found shoddy and laughable on record - 'Are you an elephant? You'll crush me to pieces' - are chanted in unison as though ineffable truths. Timing changes that seemed forced and unnecessary on the albums became tools to push the crowd’s spirits higher and higher still, until I fear they might collectively pass out, leaving me to phone for a thousand ambulances.
Biffy Clyro are simply a band that make a helluva lot more sense in a live environment. Far from being slightly indie, slightly prog, slightly metal, they elegantly encompass all three. It’s hard to walk away from their show not feeling a little changed, after hearing a thousand distinct voices sing –
'I am a mountain,
I am the sea.
You can't take that away from me.'
Not sure what it means, but I liked it. Good show, the Biffy.