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Biffy Clyro - Pyramids, Portsmouth, 20/5/2007

  by Paul Raven

published: 18 / 5 / 2007

Biffy Clyro - Pyramids, Portsmouth, 20/5/2007


At a show at the Pyramids in Portsmouth Paul Raven watches maths rockers Biffy Clyro play a catchy and enjoyable set of indie guitar rock, but also is impressed by suppoer acts yourcodenameis : milo and Frank Turner

I almost feel sorry for Frank Turner – it's a big stage to fill for one man, one hat and one guitar. Not only that, but the audience have come for a rock show, and those that are paying any attention to the stage seem underwhelmed by a solo act belting out folk-tinged acoustic protest songs. This is a shame. Frank's really rather good. He's got a strong clear voice, doubtless trained by his years as frontman for now-defunct Brit-rock heroes Million Dead, and it's the voice that has to support a performance like this - maybe you can write the most insightful songs on the face of the planet, but if you can't sing them in a style that carries across a chatty crowd, you might as well be covering Chas 'n Dave. Thankfully, Frank's material is nothing like the cor blimey clichés of the ageing cockney duo. The songs are very much of the proletariat, though – simple strong evocations of hungover Mondays, twenty-something angst, and that horrible feeling you get sometimes when you realise that, in the grand scheme of things, nothing you do really means anything: “...the rest of us are DJs, or official club photographers ... none of this is going anywhere, pretty soon we'll all be old.” He can be forgiven a bit of disillusionment, all things considered. But I don't know about him not going anywhere – once some of the audience are a little older themselves, they'll be in a position to appreciate Frank's sardonic wit and gritty realism. Imagine Billy Bragg without the flat accent or the anti-Thatcher axe to grind ... there aren't many singers talking about how life really is for the average man, so maybe Frank is on to something. I'd be very interested to see him play a more intimate venue with an audience more willing to pay attention. yourcodenameis:milo also struggle with the apathy of a crowd who, having come on the strength of the headline act, are just marking time until them arrive. Their raucous triple-guitar attack is a lot harder to ignore than the importuning of the good Mr. Turner, however, as they open up with an intro of filter-swept guitar that leads into something not unlike the old-school space-prog bludgeon of Hawkwind. The psychedelia is balanced by a quirky geek-rock chorus, though, and complex contrasting song structures appear to be the order of the day; their material, especially the older stuff, is rich with detailed angular constructions, break-downs and build-ups, moments of frantic psych-out heaviness and the baroque pomp of math-rock, all mixed up into a solid set of songs. There's a definite hint of the emo lineage, as far as structure is concerned, but yourcodename... mercifully avoid the whiny bitching and posturing of the haircut bands, and scatter the set with clangorous discord, heavy percussive passages and scratchy one-chord drones, performing with a focused intensity all the while. While the PA may not have done parts of their sound any great favours (with the drums drowning in the guitars and the vocals struggling to stay afloat), they put on a sterling show – it must have been disappointing for them to have it virtually ignored. Because what everyone has been waiting for is Biffy Clyro ... and when they finally arrive, the place goes crazy. With no ceremony whatsoever, they launch straight into current single, 'Living is a Problem Because Everything Dies'. The percussive stabs of the intro are matched with bursts from a bank of strobe lights that do a good job of imitating a nuclear device going off behind the stage, disorientating the audience and adding impact to what is already a hugely powerful passage of modern rock music. The set continues relentlessly with little extra input from the band beyond the occasional introduction of a song. These three men are here to play their music, not act out the rock-star fantasy (light-show notwithstanding). Singer James Johnston may be stripped to the waist, but there's no sense of machismo about it – it's plainly the only way he can deal with the heat of the lights and the exertion of his performance, as he's drenched with sweat before the first two tunes are finished. And it's the tunes that make Biffy Clyro such an odd fish. While their material is arguably a lot more approachable now than it was five years ago, it still bulges with math-rock intricacy and heaviness. It's a vast, fast and epic barrage of guitar music – especially heard live like this, without the constraints of the studio. But what sets them apart is their incredible ear for hooks. They balance the weight of their sound with catchy choruses and melodies that hang around in your head for ages after the songs have finished – an almost uncanny skill for creating what the Germans call an 'earworm'. It's possible that this accessible catchiness has helped propel Biffy Clyro into the realms of broad popularity that are usually considered inaccessible to really heavy bands. These songs deserve the radio airplay they're starting to get, but that's not what has brought this crowd of enthusiasts out to see them. Most of the audience know every single word to every single song, old or new, and they're singing along and cheering into the gaps. This is a truly loyal fan-base – the sort that is built up by relentless touring and well-crafted music, not by fifteen minutes of daytime airplay fame. They play for well over an hour, but it seems like less – one song follows another, new material sandwiched with older favourites, eating up the evening in five minute chunks of wall-to-wall guitars and frantic contortionist poses, on-stage and off. When it's finally all over and the crowd are funnelling out into the night, there are a few voices telling friends that they should have played this album track or that B-side, but there's no real disappointment. Everyone got what they came for – the punters got a great show, and the band strengthened their hold on the punters. If they can keep up the pace and not break the faith placed in them, Biffy Clyro could become one of the biggest British rock bands of the noughties.

Picture Gallery:-
Biffy Clyro - Pyramids, Portsmouth, 20/5/2007

Biffy Clyro - Pyramids, Portsmouth, 20/5/2007

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Singles 2001-2005 (2008)
Fabulous compilation from until recently under-rated Scottish alt. rock outfit Biffy Clyro, which merges together some of the best songs from their first three albums
27 (2001)

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