Saturday, 23 March 2013

875 BIFFY CLYRO, City And Colour, Cardiff Motorpoint Arena, Friday 22 March 2013

Gig Rush part 2 is a trip to the top of Mount Biffymanjaro… This was how the NME referred to Biffy Clyro’s new double album “Opposites”, the career-defining release that appears to have catapulted this Scots power trio into the ranks of Festival Headliners and “Best UK Band” poll winners, a widescreen and wide-reaching album which draws in bagpipe bursts and Mexican Mariachi marching band refrains, whilst not straying too far from their blend of anthemic, arena friendly hooky power rock, atmospheric mood swings and jagged, abrasive and challenging time signature noise. Making a Foo Fighter/ Seafood collision a mainstream staple; good on ‘em!

So, the supporting tour was a must for Biffyheads Rach and (increasingly) myself. Cardiff was the nearest said tour swept by the ‘don (no Oasis gig this time, lightning doesn’t strike twice that way…), so Rach booked tix straight away, and we ultimately turned it into an overnighter, Rach dropping the kids off for a sleepover at Grandmas before picking me up from work at 5. Slow traffic in South Wales and crappy directions from Google meant we didn't get to the hotel until 7 pm; but hey, at least the snow blanketing Wales didn’t reach as far South as Cardiff! A quick turnaround at the hotel, then a, “where are we? Where are we? Seriously, where the fuck are we? Oh look, there it is...” type of journey to the Motorpoint saw us park in the cavernous St. Davids’ car park opposite, then ask a policemen for directions when said car park elevator pitched us into the middle of a shopping centre! So we got into the former CIA in time to catch the last half-song of City And Colour’s support set, which sounded countrified and pleasant enough.

This place is bloody huge! A lot bigger even than I remembered it from our last trip here (Gig 734, Arcade Fire in October 2007), this is a cavernous aircraft hanger of a venue skirted by executive balconies. Probably 8,000 in tonight for this sell-out; The Biff have joined the Big Leagues, and no mistake...

We took a spot 1/4 way back, stage left and close to a mic set up on a runway jutting out from the main stage. Just after 8.30, the lights went down, the low hum of the opening bars of opener “Different People” opened up, and vocalist Simon Neil, already bare-chested, took to the front of the stage, with the brothers Johnston and their extra tour band members visible through a huge curtain. “Different People” then exploded into life and guitar-fuelled colour, and the curtain drew up to reveal a superb stage set; 2 huge video screens either side of a central 2-way gothic staircase leading to an elaborate twist of tree roots and trunk, resembling the underground lair of a Goblin King! After a jagged “That Golden Rule”, all seething drama and menace, “Sounds Like Balloons” provided the first communal “whoa-oh” singalong of the night, as the stage set morphed into a circulatory system, the trunk becoming a spine and the screens portraying a body’s muscular outline. Fascinating stuff, but never detracting from the real core of the performance; the music. As it should be.

This was indeed a top-notch performance, The Biff now clearly adapting better to the larger stage and arena/stadium dynamics required of them, whilst remaining true to their scuzzy rock’n’roll roots. Oldie “Justboy” underlined this; delivered with as much passion as they could possibly muster, I got the impression that they weren’t playing this for their loyal long-time fans (as most arena-level bands would, when delving into the old back catalogue), but more for themselves! A poppy “Bubbles” was an early highlight, the mountainous chorus resonating around the venue, then another oldie “A Day Of...”, featured a trademark old Biff weird drumbeat, like a backwards tape loop. “Jaggy Snake”, frantic and fast, was a none-more Seafood rampage, the Biff now at ease with the stage dimensions, with Neil and bassist James Johnston scampering along the runways either side of the stage with regularity.

An acoustic “God And Satan”, delivered by Neil from the runway close to us, a single spotlight picking him out in the otherwise inky blackness, heralded a slower-paced triad, followed by “The Thaw”, which started all touching and tender, then built to an operatic crescendo; then a bare “Machines”, the, “take the pieces and build them skyward,” hook being whispered reverentially back to Neil by the longer-time fans. “Glitter And Trauma” bought back the rock, before a huge, tremendous “The Joke’s On Us”, probably my highlight (of many) of the night, crushing and thunderous. An imperious “Many Of Horror” again saw a huge communal singalong, the subsequent “Picture A Knife Fight” was an uncharacteristic but fun cheesy 80’s hair band rock stomper recalling Boston’s Waltham, before “The Captain”’s call and response brought this tremendous set to a close.

Encores included a slow-burn “Skylight”, delivered by Neil from a makeshift podium atop the stage set staircase, before a final, huge and passionate “Mountains” brought an absolute top-drawer 2 hours of arena rock to a close. “Cardiff, thank you so so so so so so so so much,” an exhausted and gratified Simon Neil remarked as they took their thoroughly deserved bows. And the feeling was utterly mutual.

A lengthy but persistent wait got me Simon Neil’s set list – result! We then took our time leaving the venue to allow the traffic to thin out, reflecting on The Biff’s performance tonight. Despite a splendid stage set-up, they let the rock do the talking tonight. Damn straight. And boy, did it talk tonight, underlining their elevation to the top echelons of rock’n’roll. Mon The Biff!

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