Biffy Clyro @ The TLA with O’Brother.
Text and images by Brendan Menapace.
You’ll be hard-pressed to find anyone who hits a guitar as hard as Biffy Clyro’s Simon Neil. He really hammers it. It’s always the same motion: his knees bend and he slams his fist into his strings with the full-body follow-through of someone looking to win a fight and win it quickly. It’s that stadium-ready presence and power that the Scottish three-piece has mastered throughout their career, which includes continually packing stadiums and festival grounds all over Europe (including Wembley Stadium, and the Reading and Leeds festivals) on a regular basis.
But last week, on a Friday in Philadelphia, they played to a few hundred people at the TLA on South Street. A lot of fans in the U.K. would pay a lot to see that.
Just because the venue was smaller didn’t mean the band was abandoning any of its pageantry. Sure, there were no pyrotechnics or any of that but they still provided a bit of pageantry. They started the show (after a set from Atlanta’s O’Bother) by staring emotionless at the crowd under stroble lights and an overture—shirtless, of course, as is their tradition—until suddenly breaking into “Wolves of Winter,” the first track off their seventh and latest album, Ellipsis.
The differences between their usual stadium sets and a venue that doesn’t even fit 1,000 people are obvious. The mix is a little different (but they still played louder than most bands I’ve seen there), and they can’t play as many songs as they might overseas.
That said, their set list spanned most of their career, dating back to 2007’s Puzzle, which they say started their more stadium-ready era. They didn’t play anything from the first trilogy of albums, which was a bit more out-there, with wackier riffs and more confusing time signatures but we can hopefully chalk that up to time constraints and the need to market the new material stateside.
One of the most critically successful songs in the band’s history, “Many of Horror” from 2009’s Only Revolutions, was pretty much a guarantee for the evening. You expect Bruce to play “Born to Run,” after all. But some Biffy purists will say it’s when the band “sold out.” It didn’t help that a contestant on “The X Factor” in the U.K. performed the song and released it as a single.
Once Neil hinted at the first few notes of “Many of Horror,” one brave voice piped up from the middle of the crowd: “Worst Biffy song!”
Neil, by this point covered in sweat with his long hair dangling in his face, stopped playing.
Biffy Clyro cut their teeth in Glasgow, and have since played all over the world. They’ve heard much worse, for sure. But, as a band full of guys who cut their teeth in Glasgow, you can’t expect them to always just let it slide when some dickhead who’s had a few too many Yuenglings wants to assert his musical snobbiness. So they didn’t.
“What’s that?” Neil says. “You wanna fuckin’ come up here and say that big man?”
He wasn’t actually trying to start a fight, but he made it very obvious that this was his show. The “big” man, obviously, did not go up and say anything. Instead, like all trolls on the Internet or in person, hid in the comfort of semi-anonymity. So Neil advises him to “let everyone else fuckin’ enjoy the song.”
Once the huge, sing-along chorus hit, Neil shouted, “Everybody sing at that fuckin’ guy!” and wandered to the front of the stage, where he did just that, fixing his gaze to where the man was standing. He did this for every chorus, with a few hundred others helping him out.
The set ended, the crowd chanted “Mon the Biff,” as they do all over the world to cheer and encourage an encore, and the band came back on, finishing with “Stingin’ Belle,” a pounding song where Neil once again gets to wreak havoc on his strings and wear the finish off of one of his Fender Strats.
As the band shouted their thank-yous and goodbyes, Neil once again drew attention to his new enemy in the audience.
“Thank you so much, Philadelphia [pronounced Phil-eh-dayl-phieh in his thick Scottish accent], every single one of you. Except that fuckin’ guy.”
And then, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, he said they’ll be back in September. For a band whose U.S. appearances are few and far between, that’s an interesting note. Later, on the band’s Instagram, they posted a picture of the crowd, as they did every night this tour. But what they didn’t do for every other city was say, “We’ll be back,” much less give a date for it that hasn’t been formally announced yet.
Did we just get the first hint at the Made In America lineup? That’s where my money is, at least.