Six weeks ago Biffy Clyro were the final band to step on stage at this year’s Reading Festival. That night, headlining for the second time, the trio were on ferocious form. More than 50,000 fans watched them throw their naked torsos into a performance that looked like their lives depended on it. The stage set itself was almost an optical illusion – the band framed by enormous illuminated, rectangles. There was a ramp. There were huge video screens. And there were fireworks. Sunday night (9 October) could not have been further from that as they prepared for their upcoming European arena tour in Surrey’s sleepy Kingston-Upon-Thames. This is how it was different to almost any Biffy Clyro show you’re likely to witness.
Well, firstly, there were two shows
The Ayrshire threesome play twice. One early show at 7pm and another at 9pm with a completely different crowd.
There were no lasers, few lights and definitely no pyrotechnics
This is Biffy dialled down. Simon Neil isn’t skidding across the stage on his knees. In fact, very little sweat is spilled at all. Simon stands playing acoustic guitar, bassist James Johnston perches on a stool, while his brother, drummer Ben, sits on a cajon drum, simultaneously playing shakers and kicks (Mumford & Sons style). There are just four bright spotlights on stage.
There weren’t really tickets, as such
The shows are organised by south London record store Banquet Records. Run by Jon Tolley and Mike Smith, it’s the heartbeat of the local music community and responsible for the majority of the great shows brought to this otherwise quiet outer fringe of London. Fans for the second show got passes the old fashioned way, queueing up at the stop to buy a copy of the album in release week, which got them entrance to the gig. It meant those who are there really want to be there.
In fact, Banquet, did their best to add some touches, just for the fans
Biffy don’t do shows this small
Their next UK show is at the end of November, kicking off their arena tour at Belfast’s cavernous SSE arena. ,The Rose Theatre, located near Kingston’s historic market square (the queue for the shows snakes along the babbling Hogsmill River), is a long way from that. The three-tiered venue is more used to hosting contemporary productions, exhibitions and drama workshops. The Wind In The Willows is on soon.
The gigs weren’t the same experience
The two shows are almost completely different, bar a couple of songs which appear in both sets. Both were 11 songs totalling 45 minutes. No encore.
Their tops stayed on
It’s Autumn, and there’s air conditioning. OK?
There were old songs
They play a stripped down version of ‘Questions & Answers’ from their second album, 2003’s ‘The Vertigo of Bliss’. ‘A Whole Child Ago’ from ‘Puzzle’. Plus, more well known oldies, ‘Machines’, ‘Black Chandelier’, ‘Folding Stars’, ‘God & Satan’, ‘Saturday Superhouse’, ‘Biblical’ and ‘Many of Horror’. Some tracks are versions from ‘Puzzle’’s digital-only companion album ‘Missing Pieces’ (2009).
There were recent songs
But only a handful from ‘Ellipsis’. ‘Medicine’ and ‘Re-arrange’ – two of the most poignant moments from their recent album get an airing in set one. ‘Howl’ opens up the second set.
And there were rare songs
Introduced as “our first single ever released” they play ‘Breatheher’, a song which pre-dates their debut album ‘Blackened Sky’ in 2002. Here they are, looking very young, playing it on Gonzo. ‘Little Soldiers’, a B-side to their single ‘Mountains’ also gets played. As does ‘The Rain’ – the flip-side to ‘Black Chandelier’.
It was a more intimate experience
There’s no watching them on 4K screens or craning your neck to try and see the setlist. There are just over 1000 people in the venue – close enough to see the running-order taped to the floor, and see Simon swigging from a mug of hot herbal tea, water bottle and what looked like a crystal decanter.
The whole feel was relaxed
Normally, Biffy power from one riff to another, rarely stopping to make jokes or tell stories. This was different. Simon thanked fans during set one for coming to the “matinee”. “Because it’s acoustic it’s gonna be up, it’s gonna be down, it’s gonna be all over the place,” he joked before putting his foot on the monitor like Slash during ‘The Captain’.
A couple of times he screws up lyrics. “I’m just checking you know it,” he winks at the laughing crowd during ‘Re-arrange’. “Thanks for coming out on a Sunday night when you should be at church,” he quips at the start of a much more boisterous second show. “This is church!”
It wasn’t without a few reliable Biffy hallmarks
During the second set the crowd chants “Mon the Biff”, the Saltire dangles from one of the tiers of the theatre, and Simon Neil, seemingly unable to help himself, finishes the mellow set by grabbing the microphone. “We are Biffy fucking Clyro,” he snarls, before making his exit.