w/ Morning Parade
Ok, I'll admit it. I'm a bit of an Anglophile. I studied abroad there. I love the UK TV show Skins (the US version was shit, sorry). I love the accent. I love Strongbow, and Sainsburys, and black currant squash drink. I love the weather (yup, cold and rainy). I just love it all. So it's really no surprise that some of my favorite artists are Brits :: Ellie Goulding, Newton Faulkner, Twin Atlantic, David Ford, The 1975, Mumford and Sons..uh, the Beatles? Come on.
Newest addition to my "Brit-list" :: Biffy Clyro. These guys are from Kilmarnock, Scotland and are legit - they headlined in 2013 for the crazy Reading Festival in the UK (bucket list) and their set was insanely good. Band members are Simon Neil (vocals, guitar) and brothers James Johnston (bass, vocals) and Ben Johnston (drums, vocals). [Don't ask about what their name means, they won't tell you.] The band has actually been around for a while - their first album Blackened Sky was released in 2002 and their early work definitely has more of a punk rock, underground kind of sound, if you know what I mean. But Biffy Clyro has a steady following in the UK, and their last three albums have definitely been produced with more of that mainstream alt rock sound, which means they're on the way to world domination. Or at least on their way to crossing the pond.
I think I first heard them via Spotify on my Twin Atlantic radio station (another really great Scottish alt rock band), and kept them stored away in the back of my mind. I get these random emails from this company called Do312 that sends me info about random bar events and concerts and things going on in Chicago. So on Friday, I was browsing through emails, and saw a headline to enter to win free passes to a live studio recording for Biffy Clyro on Sunday. I at least recognized the band's name, and I had nothing planned, so I entered. [Sidenote: I never win contests of any kind.] Long story short, I got an email late Saturday afternoon informing me that I won! I wasn't exactly sure what "live studio taping" meant exactly, but after a little research, I learned that the show was being put on by JBTV Studios - "America's longest running music television show, showcasing new music and breaking artists for over 27 years". Pretty cool, right? So basically, there were maybe 100 people who showed up at the studio (near Merchandise Mart) and we got to walk through this awesome room filled with signed posters, guitars, records from all these famous artists and bands, and then into this acoustified (?) room with a small stage and cameras. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to get up front, so I had an interesting time trying to see as usual, but I'm looking forward to catching the episode on JBTV (check out these fan videos (Little Soldiers, Stingin' Belle) on YouTube in the meantime - thanks to shiner1tx for posting it!)
Anyways, Biffy played an entirely acoustic set which was awesome because they are obviously an electric-guitar, head-banging band. They played a bunch of the popular songs off their latest album, Opposites, like "Black Chandelier", "Biblical", and "Stingin' Belle"..and I want to say maybe "Folding Stars" was in there too. Check out the audio clip I recorded of "God & Satan". But anyway, SO GOOD. The crowd was really into them, and someone even brought them some Irn Bru! [a popular Scottish soft drink that's bright orange and mostly known as a hangover cure, haha] Really impressive for a rock band to play an acoustic set so well - Neil has a really cool voice, with just the right amount of Scot-accent :-) Needless to say, the whole show was a really pleasant surprise! I learned that they were playing a show later that night at Bottom Lounge (Near West Side neighborhood?), which I had never been to, but I was so amped on Biffy that I went online as soon as I left the studio and bought a ticket. Lucky that I did, because it was a sold out show!
Bottom Lounge is a cool venue - I'd like to go back and hang out in the bar/restaurant part (I hear there's a rooftop too). It's in sort of a warehouse-like building, with real high exposed beam ceilings and brick walls. Apparently it used to be in Lakeview, right near the Belmont stop (wish it still was!), but it moved in 2008 due to train construction. The actual concert part of the venue is pretty spacious, so even though it was a full house, there was still space in the back of the room to spread out a bit.
Opening band :: Morning Parade. Five-member alt rock band from Essex, they were also pretty good! No one knew their songs sadly, but they were energetic and got the crowd's attention. I think they're releasing (or have recently released) a new album too.
"Mon the Biff!" is a Biffy Clyro cult chant that fans yell when waiting for the show to start. After an extremely long sound-check (in between sets? it was weird), Biffy fucking Clyro finally took the stage. And guess what, they came out with no shirts on! haha it was definitely a sight to see and I was a little surprised at how cliche rock-star it was...but I soon realized why. Simon Neil sweats. A LOT. Like, he was dripping rivers of sweat. After just a few songs, his hair looked like he had just gotten out of the shower, and needless to say, he probably drenched the front row with all of his head banging. Ha, so gross! But luckily (or was it unlucky?), I wasn't in the line of fire.
Bottom Lounge is definitely set up to deliver a loud, loud rock show. And I loved it! Very different from the kind of shows that I've been to lately. The crowd was definitely made up of loyal Biffy fans, and a lot of the popular songs off their latest album Opposites are perfect sing-at-the-top-of-your-lungs anthems, so everyone was into it. Some may argue Opposites is too mainstream sounding, but I still think it's great. Also loved "Who's Got A Match", "Bubbles", "The Captain" and "God and Satan" too, from Only Revolutions (2009). Of course, they got an encore (who doesn't?) and they ended with "Mountains". Solid.
One thing that always gets me is the difference between studio/album versions vs live performances. I'll probably say this a hundred times more, but you just can't compare the two. Which is why I try to selectively go to shows where I know the artist(s) can actually perform live. (No Selena Gomez or Avril Lavigne shows for me anytime soon, sorry). Biffy Clyro can hit gut-wrenching notes, and play crazy riffs, and jump around on stage, all at the same time and still sound amazing. Maybe it's got something to do with my lack of knowledge about how live performance sound engineering works, but when the amps are turned up loud and the lighting is perfect and everyone's singing at the top of their lungs, it's just the perfect combination. I love when you can feel the bass ringing inside your body.You just don't get that kind of beautiful guitar noise from an earbud, sorry.
Bottom line: Biffy Clyro was 1000x better than I ever expected. They rocked, literally. I'm bummed that they probably don't come to the US too often..just another reason to wish I lived in England. Their US and Canada tour is basically over, so unfortunately you missed your chance to see them anytime soon (unless you want to go to Scandinavia). But I wouldn't be surprised if they start to be more popular over here - they have played with other huge rock bands like Green Day, System of a Down, New Found Glory, Nine Inch Nails, Fall Out Boy, etc. etc. But definitely, check them out, buy their album Opposites (and Puzzles is also a good one), and be on the lookout for their return to the States. Rock on, and Mon the Biff!
PS. Apologies for all of the F-bombs, but watch any of their live videos on YouTube and you'll see why it was necessary ;-)