The Roundhouse, London, September 22
Is there a rock finishing school for bands like Biffy Clyro? Are there open days at Prof W OaaaahhhhHHHH’s backing vox studio? Sessions in the gym to learn jumping with a guitar, power-chord arm curls and the monitor balance? An onsite barber who specialises in sculpting the tour van tangle into something for the stadium?
Well, no. But if such a place existed Biffy would ace it, and tonight’s gig – fuelled by six months in the studio working on 2013’s double album, ‘Opposites’ – would be the graduation ceremony. The platinum-selling success of 2009’s ‘Only Revolutions’ has emboldened them. The subsequent world tour has left them a ferociously precise live act. Somewhere along the way they got slick. They open with a furious version of ‘Stingin’ Belle’, the first single off ‘Opposites’, rattle through ‘The Captain’ and then swing a lurching left into ‘27’, their second ever single. “Hello, London. We’re going to play a bit of everything,” says singer Simon Neil. By this point that’s blindingly obvious.
“A bit of everything” includes the best of ‘Only Revolutions’, the odd ‘Puzzle’ favourite and the occasional archive number spotted among a clutch of newies. The strongest of these are the apocalypse rock of ‘Victory Over The Sun’ and the semi-mystical anthem ‘Sounds Like Balloons’. The former, with its lilting guitar line twinned with Neil’s gentle mumble, struggled at this year’s Download, but here it’s at boiling point as its 40 seconds of quiet tension provide a sense of gentle unease before the storm starts. The latter is more straightforward, a chant-a-long epic of the ‘…Revolutions’ school.
If other ‘Opposites’ tracks fail to ignite mass singalongs it’s because the trio’s songwriting has deepened, turning away from the easy wins of ‘…Revolutions’ and back towards the screwier moments of ‘Puzzle’. ‘Modern Magic Formula’ and ‘The Joke’s On Us’ are confusing at first, slippery little devils that sound like Sepultura setting the hounds on Bon Jovi. But the band lead us through the tricky bits to a safe zone: ‘That Golden Rule’, ‘Living Is A Problem Because Everything Dies’ and ‘Many Of Horror’ are all played with an abandon that belies the fact that Biffy must be sick of them by now.
Subtlety points go to the stage designer who programmed giant soap bubbles full of smoke to float up to the ceiling, but as they shimmer and pop, they’re a good visual metaphor for Biffy. If anything about the three Scots has changed in the 10 years since their debut album, it’s how much more sophisticated they’ve become at crowbarring their wiggy experimentalism into the pop format. And how completely brilliant they are at hiding their smoke in the bubble.