Pumpehuset, Copenhagen, DEN - 15/4
Biffy ClyroPrevious Next
support Lonely The Brave
author HES date 03/11/16 venue Store Vega, Copenhagen, DEN
It hasn’t been a long time since the Scottish trio Biffy Clyro last visited Denmark; Only just this summer the band played Roskilde Festival, making a great attempt at filling up the Arena Stage. It’s a testament to how big the band has grown since the 2012 single "Black Chandelier" helped them break into the mainstream. Their latest album "Ellipsis" flew right into the charts, but many reviews, including the one from this magazine, have been lukewarm at best. The set at Roskilde Festival disappointed greatly by containing a lot of down-tempo ballads, excluding popular up-tempo songs, so it’s interesting to see how the band will manage a set with room for more songs.
Biffy Clyro has a talent for picking their warm up bands, and listening to Lonely The Brave pre-show it sure seems like they’ve done it again. The Cambridge-hailing band is dominated by the airy, yet strained vocals of David Jakes. However, as the band enters the stage it doesn’t seem like David Jakes wants to dominate anything, as he edges himself in between guitarist Ross Smithwick and drummer Gavin Edgeley. The band struggles a little with the sound during the opener "Black Mire" as trebles get to dominate the otherwise spacey soundscape of the band’s second LP "Things Will Matter". Pushed up to the very edge of the stage by Biffy Clyro’s gear, the band appears like a disjointed line of individual musicians not really doing much to play together.
Jakes is completely invisible as a conductor of the show as he is apparently suffering from debilitating stage anxiety, and although his voice sounds just as amazing as on record, it seems both guitarists, Smithwick and Mark Trotter, have decided to overcompensate for Jakes’ anxiety by rocking out like there is no tomorrow. Drummer Gavin Edgeley looks like a man that would rather be somewhere else and bassist Andrew Bushen seems in his own little bubble on the far right of the stage. The band actually manages to get through quite a few songs - whereof "Dust and Bones", "Trick of the Light" and "Backroads" seem to fare the best. The set is also weirdly constructed starting with songs from the sophomore "Things Will Matter" and ending in songs off the debut "The Day’s War". All in all it leaves this show in some kind of weird limbo where most of it actually sounds great, but all of the other pieces simply work against each other. Especially Jakes’ weird, retracted appearance seems to make the crowd confused and because no one addresses this it ends up stealing a lot of the attention - which is probably the opposite of what the band really wanted.
Tonight the band has brought their full light production of which only half can fit on the tiny stage of Store Vega. However, it becomes evident fairly quickly, that people suffering from epilepsy hopefully haven’t found their way into these halls that are now flashed with strobes, the heat almost emitting to the middle of the hall where I am situated. The band clearly wants to be seen as the original trio of Simon Neil (vocals/guitar), James Johnston (bass) and Ben Johnston (drums). However, as the albums have grown more produced, it seems to have been getting harder for the band to achieve this sound live without including touring members. But in spite of having brought both Mike Vennart and Richard Ingram for extra support on guitars, piano and vocals they are hidden away in the back. Now I know there are mixed opinions about this way of setting it up, but to me it comes off inauthentic to pretend only three people are producing the sound of five. As for the original trio, the usual ping-pong between vocalist/guitarist Simon Neil and bassist James Johnston seems to have gone a bit on hiatus. Whether it is just lethargy from a long tour or a strategic decision, it appears that Simon Neil is becoming the focal point of the band which is kind of sad, as the personal dynamic always fit well into the overall dynamic compositions.
Out of the 25 song long set, an overweight of songs is of course from the newest record "Ellipsis". The opener of the show "Wolves of Winter" works pretty well with singalongs and great contrasting energies. However, tracks like "Howl" and "Friends and Enemies" are honestly pretty toothless in comparison to some of the band’s other compositions. Most horrendous however is the balled "Re-arrange" with a corresponding corny lightshow. Usually when Biffy Clyro has written something in a more "slow" style, they have been masters at including an off-element in the shape of a breakdown or a contrapuntal rhythmic section. However, "Re-arrange" is 100% cheese and almost manages to kill all energy of the show. Again in this show, as was the case of the Roskilde show, the setlist includes many a ballad, at least most of them better than "Re-arrange"; "Biblical" comes fairly early in the set, "Black Chandelier" is a crowd favourite towards the middle, however the best emotional moments appear towards the end with "Whorses" and "Machines". As for the more energetic songs, classics "Sounds Like Balloons", "Spanish Radio", "Bubbles", "That Golden Rule", "9/15ths" and encore tracks "The Captain" and "Stingin’ Belle" fare much better than the newer "Animal Style", "On a Bang" and "People" are just simply not as well constructed, and it shows in the crowd reaction of which only "Animal Style" really gets any attention.
But tonight a strange phenomenon also dominates the experience: Vega is experiencing bad sound. Whether the band has insisted on using their own personnel or perhaps the local people have not gotten used to their new speaker system - it appears that something is all wrong: Treble ruins most of the more noisy parts of the songs, which is completely unheard of in Vega. I set foot in this venue around once a month because of both their bookings, but certainly also their usually impeccable sound - usually so well-conducted that no earplugs are needed. But tonight I am really sad I didn’t bring them. The rest of the production, including the lights work wonderfully to support especially the more contrapuntal and playful constructions in songs like "Sounds Like Balloons", "Spanish Radio" and "9/15ths". But no matter how the band would have liked for this show to be and in spite of so many songs from the new release being played, it is obvious that the crowd still responds best to classics like "Bubbles", "Mountains" and "The Captain" that are also cleverly scattered all over the set as to keep the energy up. In conclusion, Biffy Clyro doesn’t deliver a bad set here tonight. I don’t actually think the band is capable of delivering a bad set really. But tonight is the most challenged set I’ve seen from this band. Usually there’s more energy left for in-between song banter or a little more contact to the audience, but for many reasons it just doesn’t happen.