Scottish rockers Biffy Clyro are back, and bigger than ever, with the release of seventh studio album Ellipsis. And to support the record, frontman Simon Neil along with his rhythm section of twin brothers James and Ben Johnson on bass and drums respectively, hit up some of the biggest venues across the country, ending up with a stop at East London’s tent-venue – The O2 Arena.
The rock trio suffered from a split of their fan base following their mainstream success with Only Revolutions in 2009, seemingly sounding too light and commercial to some when compared to their pre-major label records, a feeling compounded by rock ballad single Many Of Horror being covered by Matt Cardle on the follow year’s X-Factor.
But that hasn’t stopped them continuing to walk the tightrope between radio-friendly and moshpit-enducing rock anthems that have led the Kilmarnock-based group to headline some of the world’s biggest music festivals.
Appearing on a dramatic cube-shaped stage, formed of concentric lit-up squares surrounding an industrial metal-meshed, multi-level stage, the three-piece walked out in their usual triangular set-up to screams and chants of “Mon The Biff” from the East London crowd, with frontman Simon Neil front-left, James Johnson front-right and his brother Ben centred behind and up a level behind a huge drum kit.
Neil covered up his trademark tattooed bare chest in an overflowing white lab coat, while the brothers Johnson made no such effort as the group opened up proceedings with new album opener Wolves Of Winter, fans crushed against the front barrier screaming along with every word while holding on for dear life before the trio dove straight into the stabbing intro of 2007 single Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies from fourth album Puzzle.
Barely a breather was had before the North Ayrshire-native frontman teased his audience with the opening guitar licks of Opposites cut Sounds Like Balloons, “Are you ready London?!” he screamed before tearing into the song’s chorus, riling the already furious crowd further.
The scale of the stage was demonstrated next as the 37-year-old frontman made his way to a raised platform to the left of the stage before addressing the crowd for the first time “Good evening ladies and gentleman of London, it’s good to see you” he said. “Tonight we are the Golden Girls” he jested before bursting into a short rendition of the famous TV theme tune as an intro Opposites single Biblical.
Spanish Radio led to Howl during which time Neil shed his super-sized white lab coat and shifted into the bare-chested rocker he’s famous for being, his long black hair sticking to his sweaty body “Everybody put your hands in the air!” he encouraged, as the upbeat song reached another crescendo. “Oh we’ve missed you London” Neil exclaimed before launching into In The Name of the Wee Man which had the show’s light show kick into second gear, green lasers shooting out across the crowd from the stage.
“Tonight is the last night of our tour, so let’s have a fucking party! Are you up for it?” James Johnson asked of the London crowd before the Scots reached far into the dustiest corner of their back catalogue for third single 57 from debut record Blackened Sky, riling their long-standing fans with an old favourite before branching into hit record Only Revolutions with fifth single Bubbles, the bouncy yet heavy tune capturing the very essence of Biffy Clyro’s transformation from gritty indie club band to radio-friendly, grander-stage-eying rock superstars.
More from Ellipsis followed by way of upbeat Herex before slow-build Opposites single Black Chandelier encouraged a handful of those standing on the arena floor to get on their friends’ shoulders, much to the annoyance of venue security, Neil handing over vocal duties to the crowd towards the end of the cut as he bounded about the vast stage. Friends And Enemies had the frontman request the 20,000-strong crowd all get involved with arms in the air commenting “that was some Live Aid shit right there” at the song’s conclusion.
Ellipsis continued to get a good airing with fourth single, rock ballad Re-Arrange and Infinity Land’s Wave Upon Wave Upon Wave faded out to silence comedically before the brothers Johnson departed the stage leaving the frontman behind an acoustic guitar at the top of the multi-tiered stage for a stripped-back rendition of Medicine, additional guitars and keyboards provided by touring members Mike Vennart and Richard Ingram respectively, the brothers re-joining towards the end of the track to provide additional vocals.
The main set was rounded out with Only Revolutions single Many Of Horror, the entire crowd singing along with the band’s biggest hit ahead of a solo acoustic rendition of Puzzle single Machines.
A three-song encore took the song count up to 27 for the group’s marathon 2+ hour set, Neil and James Johnson swapping far perches to get close to their fans at the very edges of the arena stage as they bounded, screamed and thrashed through tracks from their last three albums, Neil failing his long dark hair about while Johnson bounced off his bright red trainers.
Opposites track Stingin’ Belle rounded out the night and this leg of Biffy Clyro’s Ellipsis tour in style, Neil’s unique vocal styling, which lets his deep Scottish accent breath freely, so much of Biffy Clyro songs, adding the character of another band member.
Love them, hate them, prefer “Old Biffy” or “New Biffy”, it’s safe to say that this Scottish trio now comfortably own the vast stages of 20,000+ capacity arenas and with huge festival headline slots both behind them and upcoming, this is a stadium rock act of the future. And what’s so amazing is that they do it with very little gimmickry. While the stage setup was grand, there was no ‘B’ stage, no jumping into the crowd, no special guests … just the raw energy of Neil and the Johnsons and, of course, the incredibly anthemic collection of songs they bring.
Biffy Clyro take their cubic Ellipsis tour to Europe in the new year with dates across Spain, Portugal, France and Italy amongst others. They go on to headline Saturday night at Donnington Park’s Download Festival in June.
Live review of Biffy Clyro @ The O2 Arena by Kalpesh Patel on 8th December 2016.
Kalpesh has more music photography up on his flickr stream here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/somethingforkate