“It’ll be celebrating so much more than a weekend of music,” Biffy Clyro frontman Simon Neil told NME int he build-up to Reading & Leeds 2021. “We’ll all be together at last. It’s more important than any Reading & Leeds before.”
He’s not wrong. With COVID scuppering last year’s edition – and forcing many of the US artists on this year’s line-up to bail – there’s a life-on-knife-edge mentality that the pandemic has bred into music fans and their ever-changing plans. This weekend was more about celebrating humanity than it was just ‘avin it to some tunes, but The Biff do well to cover both.
Today (August 29) marks 20 years since the wonky-rock trio’s first performance at these festivals – it’s now their 10th gig here and their third time headlining. And they know what Reading want by now, but they’ll only deliver it on their own madcap terms. Walking out onto the gangway of their ambitious stage set, Neil raises one arm in the sky in his cloud-covered smock, looking like a high wizard of the sky. “I wanna see every single one of those hands Reading, come on – get tae fuuuuck!”
From 2020’s ‘A Celebration Of Endings’ euphoric opener ‘North Of No South’ to the schizoid brilliance of ‘That Golden Rule’, the monolithic ‘Mountains’ and the-best-Bond-theme-that-never-was ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’, it’s a relentless showing that The Biff have the bangers to warrant the explosions they set off above the stage. This may seem like a slick, well-produced performance, but they thrive when they lean into their idiosyncrasies. Neil’s shirt comes off just a few songs in as he lowers the mic to his ankles, crouches down, and starts babbling along in tongues to ‘Who’s Got A Match’.
There’s no fat on this setlist, which adds to the impact of tonight and captures the spirit of Biffy: crowd-pleasing without compromise. The best example comes with a heavenly outing of ‘Many Of Horror’ (more familiar than it should have been after a lumpy, chart-topping cover by The X Factor‘s Matt Cardle) to a fittingly romantic response, before the perfectly timed metal-meets-Mozart belter of ‘Cop Syrup’ soundtracks fans making their exit to go get a good spot for Liam Gallagher on the opposite stage with Neil bellowing “FUCK EVERYBODY, FUCK EVERYBODY, WOO!”. It doesn’t get much more Biffy than that.
It’s all hugging and lighters up for the perfect closer song of ‘Machines’, as Neil sings what feels like a eulogy to the shittier times of the last 18 months: “I’ve started falling apart I’m not savouring life, I’ve forgotten how good it could be to feel alive”. This is living, this is love, this is what festivals are all about.
Check back at NME all weekend for more reviews, news, interviews, photos and more from Reading & Leeds 2021.