Monday, December 15, 2014

You shone a light on my life - Trip to Biffyland December 5-7

Biffy Clyro

I know, I know ... if there was a contest for the sappiest blog post headline of the year I just made myself a strong contender. But you know what?  I don't care. I gave up on being cool a long time ago, I love "Semimental", it was the first time ever I heard it live and it damn fits for the whole experience of this weekend. So there was that and now on to the trip of the year

The road to the Barras started already on a summer day earlier this year when some cryptic messages peaked into the announcement about all of our wildest music fan dreams coming true:

Biffy Clyro would play their "heart and home" venue - the Barrowland Ballroom in Glasgow - for three days in a row for album shows with fan selected setlists. The majority of tickets would be given away in a very restricted presale to make sure  that - as much this is possible - the core group of the fans would get access to these once in a lifetime shows. BOOM!

The nights were structured like this:
Friday, December 5 - Blackened Sky & Puzzle + b-sides
Saturday, December 6 - Vertigo Of Bliss & Only Revolutions + b-sides

Sunday, December 7 -  Infinity Land & Opposites + b-sides

And there we were ... HOUSTON WE HAVE A PROBLEM!  The first week of December is the busiest week of the year at work and taking time off is a no go. There was just no way that I could make all three shows .... two if I was lucky. I had to make a decision which one I would not do and it was music wise one of the hardest decisions ever but I went for Friday and Saturday. Well knowing that the Sunday setlist would feature a lot of favorites I will likely now never hear on stage (b-sides mostly), I HAD to see Blackened Sky live. I really had to and in hindsight I cannot even think of how I would have felt missing Friday. So although Sunday was a bloody painful day - sad, exhausted from traveling, lonely with almost all friends still at the Barras - it was the right decision. 


Barrowland Ballroom
Before we look at the breathtaking celebration of music in detail, let's get a couple of general facts and observations out of the way:

The setlists:  Biffy Clyro played in 3 nights 86 different songs. 12 of these songs were live premiers and a lot more were not played live for many, many years. The amount of work that went into preparing these shows was obviously enormous.
The setlists for each night were simply amazing ... covering it all from popular fan favorites to really rare tracks. It was a great joint effort of the band and the voting fans to put those together. I cannot count how often I saw people in the crowd over the weekend pressing both hands on the heart, giving up the fight against the tears and just singing as loud as possible. At some point every single one of us got his / hers song. The ONE that means everything. 



Steps with Biffy lyrics
The venue & set up: Once they let us in I guess every one stopped dead for a second whispering "My god ....." looking at the stairs going up, because every single one of them was showing off lyric lines from Biffy songs. It was the most heartfelt welcome to a venue ever.
I am also madly in love with the Barras. For all the local fans it was nothing surprising but it was my first Barrowlands gig and I just love this type of old places that breathe the vibe of countless shows. It might be old, it might be worn out, but when the wooden floors below your feet start to swing it's priceless.
I was also utterly impressed with the sound. I know that the whole Biffy crew took a giant effort in preparing the room and it definitely paid out. On Friday I was in my usual spot right in front of James and also in front of the big speaker set. Usually this is where you SEE extremely well, but the sound is .. well ... problematic at times (depends on the venue).  But for these shows it was just outstanding. I never heard every single instrument so well and so balanced, I never heard the voices of the  twins - and Mike's - better than here.
The stage set up was - with full intention - nothing fancy. No big production, no laser show, no effects - just some relatively simple but effective light settings and that was it and it was perfect. This was about the music, the band and us ... nothing more and nothing less. 



Simon Neil & his audience
The crowd: The audience is probably the biggest reason why I am somewhat fine with having no Biffy shows happening for the next at least 12 months. I have been to a few really good ones in small clubs, some really big and impressive ones and some ... well odd ones, but nothing will beat this ever ... until we might come together again in a few years for something similar - hopefully.
It was so much fun to be finally in a crowd that really knows the lyrics and sings the guitar riffs, that knows where the hand claps are in tunes like "Wave Upon Wave" (I was not there for this one but there is video proof) and that hits the delayed beats in "Living Is A Problem".
I will miss you - all of you - when the new album is out and we will all be back on the road and have to deal with 'normal' audiences around the planet (I know that sounds terribly snobby but there is a very real difference). Good to know that I have my crew and will be always surrounded by our own little crowd anyway who is behind us!

The friendship: This is a big part of the game ... the friendship that holds our group of gig pals together - far beyond just the gigs. The shared rides, the long hours before the show, the way of helping each other out with tickets, the hugs, the laughs, the stories - all that just works with the right folks.  Music does bring people together .. like minded people across borders, language barriers, people off all ages and backgrounds. It's magic and it's awesome. 



Blackened Sky / Puzzle
 

Biffy Clyro


Click to enlarge
Friday night ... after all the wait it was finally there. Although we did not queue in the cold much and made a trip to the merch first my friend Anita's and mine usual spot in front of James was still wide open when we entered the venue. It was not directly the barrier anymore but 2nd row just behind friends of us and that was more than fine.
The final moments before the show were strange and familiar at the same time ... Churd doing the final checks .. the playlist with Twilight Sad, Manchester Orchestra and LAU, but our knees felt weak and the excitement level was on 1000%.


Then it was time and the band came on stage logically starting with "Joy. Discovery. Invention" in the very beginning ... with the first song from the first album directly followed by "Living Is A Problem". A friend watching more from the back said it looked incredibly funny to see 2,000 people tilt their heads right on the - very tricky - beats. I can imagine it was because ... that is what I did, too! 
The rest of the setlist was just stunning. It is so hard to name any particular highlights. I think for me it were "27", "Christopher's River", "Breatheher" (YES!), "Justboy" (I will never get tired of this one), "I'm Behind You", "57" (best screaming with James ever), "Semimental", "A Whole Child Ago" (But, dear Simon, you still owe me one more round of MY song next tour because ... that is NOT how the lyrics go, it really is not.) and "Hope For An Angel".  And then ... there was ... "Love Has  Diameter". I love that song so much (lyrics!!!) and it turned out to be THE song of the night with the most epic sing along. Watch and listen ...



"Scary Mary" closed night one and it was so so so good. It was all I had hoped for and so much more. 

Now you would think it was time to take a breath, stand around a bit, get a drink and slowly leave the venue, but that wasn't us. 
A lovely bunch of about 200 souls was rushing out of the Barrowlands, grabbing coats, organizing shared car rides (thanks to Emma, Kirsty and everyone else who packed the car full with people), hurrying to get over to a little venue called Broadcast at the other side of the city center for the next chapter of this really long day of awesome....


One Dragon or Halfadukeduke


Dragon - Picture by Helen Schofield

Dragon's Duke setlist

The reason why we were rushing?  We were excited to see the late night set of Medals at Broadcast and before that another really rare highlight:

Dragon - one half of the legendary Marmaduke Duke - would play an acoustic set with Duke songs!
Just exactly what the doctor ordered for an absolutely BUZZING post Biffy crowd.


The show kicked off with "Kid Gloves" - an absolute favorite of myself and basically everyone else in the room. Since The Atmosphere (the other half of Marmaduke Duke aka Simon Neil - for the ones not so firm with the story) and his pals had helped us so nicely to warm up our voices earlier the night the crowd picked up with the singing and "Mon The Dragon" chants right away.

From the moment the extra set was announced I had spent a bit of time thinking about which songs from "The Magnificent Duke" could work under these circumstances as this is not exactly a light fare. I guessed right with "An Imposter and A Magician" and "A Curse and A Coyote" while "The False and The Cinematic" was a lovely surprise (my guess would have been "A Conspiracy and A Devil" btw but that was probably a bit too obvious although beautiful nonetheless). 
The question was now: How to make crazy dance tunes like "Music Show" and "Rubber Lover" work in an acoustic set? Well, it needs a guitar, a Dragon and a crowd that's ready to sing and yell "Girl, you're making me SCREAM" in the right moment and you got the magic going!

Finally there was the one song on the set list I had wished to hear live for a long time. It's the one Duke song that especially keeps my head above the waves even on the worst days because I cannot help it but laughing latest when the chorus kicks in: 


"Skin The Mofo"

And YASSS... that was FUN ..... F# G F#!!! (Thanks to Luciana for recording!) 





Medals 


Medals - Picture by Anita Ivanković

Click to enlarge
This was my 5th Medals show and it is really hard to name a favorite since every single one was special for the one or other reason. King Tut's was already quite awesome when it comes to the audience but I am thinking that this night was even a bit better. 
One reason was for sure that a crowd definitely cannot better be put into the right mood for a fun show than by an over 2 hrs Biffy gig plus a Marmaduke Duke set. Who is not dancing and singing by then is very likely ... dead. 
The other reason was the special combination of people in the audience. While there were a lot of familiar faces at the front this was also the one occasion when many Medals fans from other countries (France, Poland, Ireland, Germany, ...) could finally make it to their first show and enjoyed it a LOT.
And then there was also a bunch of people who had booked the tickets more out of a mix of curiosity and socializing as Broadcast was kind of THE place to be for the aftershow party .... and all of them ended up dancing and loving it (at least every one I talked to after the show or the next day)!

The setlist was the party mix of Medals tunes, selected Sucioperro classics, the super fun covers of "XO" and "Lapdance" and Marmaduke Duke's "Silhouettes".
The combination of "Dialog On The 2" and "Sit Back Down Judas" really rocked the house with the Judas sing along becoming more and more one of the set highlights.
Definitely also worth mentioning: fancy guitar work from all three Dave, Marianne and JP including impressive frontman rockstar poses ;), Mike's dancing moves and shoes (!) as well as the killer rhythm section performance of Gus & Mike for "Valleys"

After the Medals set I hit my "24 hrs on the feet" mark and was so exhausted that I was not even tired anymore and felt the urgent need of a nightcap or two. Big thumbs up here then for the barkeeper upstairs at Broadcast who's definition of "Whisky Ginger Ale" is a good double whisky with such a tiny splash of ginger ale that it was not even enough to make it slightly fizzy. It was gorgeous and cheaper than the ginger ale without any alcohol would be in Munich. I love you, Glasgow!

PS:  Fast forward to Thursday, Dec 11. We, our lovely group of gig pals from all over the planet, were spending the evening together - virtually - hiding from the world in our little corner of Facebook that had turned from a travel planning group into a post gig depression support group. We were just busy moaning about how bleak the outlook on the new year was searching desperately for an excuse to all meet in Glasgow like "When is the Vennart tour? Not before spring isn't it? Sigh.", when this tweet hit: 

@medalsmusic  ·  Dec 11
Can't wait to get out and play again. Trying to set up a Glasgow show for end of January for more good times.

It was quite fascinating to see how the group conversation immediately changed from collective grieving to "Wait, I get my calendar .. yes ... January is looking good." That is what I love this bunch of people for .... always ready for the next act of crazy and fun! So the game is officially on and we all hope it works out. Dear Medals, I guess with the Broadcast show you officially adopted a bunch of temporarily 'under worn' gig nomads to take care of. 



Vertigo Of Bliss / Only Revolutions 

Ben & James - Picture by Danni Casey


Click to enlarge
The level of exhaustion that 26 hours of travel and music left in my old bones was skyhigh and so Saturday started late with a big breakfast with friends that was basically directly followed by tea with more friends before we walked up to the venue again.

When we arrived shortly before 6 pm at the queue it was already to feel that there was a different buzz in the air. I did not think that it was possible but there was even MORE excitement. I think it was half logistics - many fans could not take the Friday off and arrived only for the Saturday show and were now totally super ready to join the fun - half Vertigo Of Bliss ... the favorite album of many early and die hard fans.

I went for a walk along the queue and later around the venue and I had no idea before how many people I know! There were so many friends and fellow gig travelers as well as people I only knew through social media before but who stopped me now along the way to say hello (Always great to leave the purely virtual level behind and replace it with real hugs and hand shakes - it was lovely to meet you all!). 


We had decided beforehand to not head for the front but watch from the back, jump into the fun from the sides at some point and in general just to have fun without looking for "the perfect spot".  Neither VOB nor OR were my favorite albums and so I was looking forward to the show a LOT but not with the same excitement as the night before ... and was wrong ... so so so wrong. I was so not prepared for what would happen next: 

At 8.30 pm Biffy Fucking Clyro did not went but BURST on stage with "Bodys In Flight" followed by "Boom, Blast & Ruin" followed by an absolutely glorious "Help Me Be The Captain". We just looked at each other with a big bold "What the ...?????"  Barely 15 minutes in it was clear that this band would burn that precious house down this night and that the fans were their ecstatic henchmen. Friday was amazing but Saturday???  INCREDIBLE!!! 

It was wild and heavy, it was sweet and soothing and then it was a happy slap in the face again. The floor wasn't swinging ... it was bouncing. It is really, really, really hard to describe what happened and I still have not processed it properly. 
What we witnessed was nothing short of the very best Rock 'n' Roll show I have been part of, sang along, bounced, jumped and cried through my whole life (and I am going to gigs for over 20 years) and I am pretty sure that for a long, long time nothing will come close.  And I am by far not alone with this feeling. It is what basically everyone says who was there and even Mike Vennart tweeted after the show:
"Possibly the best gig I've ever played in my life. Thank you, if you were part of it. X" 

Setlist highlights are even harder to make out than for Friday because what mattered was not a special song in particular but the way this whole beast of a show blew us off our feet. I did not expect to hear "Robbery" live at all though but it was amazing fun. Mid set "Mountains" was so good even with the totally unavoidable pun of Simon saying "Thank you & good night" afterwards. "Bubbles" we spent in the queue for a much needed drink but even that was fun because the whole bar queue was bouncing like kids in the bouncing castle and the sing along for "All The Way Down" was deafening. I also spit out some swear words for "God & Satan" (damn it ... still not a single show for me - except Friday logically - without that ... thing) and rolled my eyes a bit to "Many Of Horror" (lovely song but I can do without it now) but the singing was beautiful I have to admit. 
I guess the moment that broke us all came quite unexpected. After "God & Satan" there was suddenly some unusual movement on the stage. It was Ben climbing down from his drums joining his brother, who had put down his bass, in front of the microphone. And then they were standing there - arm in arm: "I just wish we all could betray, I just wish we all could betray, I just wish we all could betray .... ". "Diary Of Always" never used to be one of my favorite songs but Saturday night everything was upside down anyway and that was very special and touching. 

The crowd was outstanding all night ... singing so loud along with the music and just every single word of the lyrics, the pit was wild, the whole venue bouncing like mad and so was the band. A breathless James checked for a reason sometimes midway through the show "Are you alright? This is a fucking battle!" It sure was and it peaked in the most epic way:

Following the tradition the set finished with "Now The Action Is On Fire" - and it ended how it had started ... with "bodies in flight" when every single musician on stage - including Mike and Gambler - took a run and JUMPED into the crowd. Just have a look yourself - it's great, great fun: 


For me this was the end of the road ... all over and like almost everyone I just stood there barely able to move. I have to thank my dear friend Mark for the big post show hug right in time when I really lost it unable to speak and unable to hold back the tears any longer. 

At lot has changed in my life since I listened to these guys for the very first time and it all came together in these two nights  - perfectly rounded up with the Duke & Medals sets - and I cannot put into words how grateful I am for these shows. 

For the rest of the night we were riding out the wave  ... meeting friends at a bar where we were having a drink together as well as another epic sing along to Biffy - this time from the bar stereo - and we finished with a little tour through the nightly Glasgow simply because we were still too much on adrenaline to sleep. 

Sunday was terrible. I would have given everything for being able to stay but it was just not possible.

As I was not at the show I cannot review Infinity Land / Opposites. I know it was great and very emotional because it was the last night. I have also seen the setlist and it is packed with songs I would have loved to hear - especially the various tracks from "Similarities" including my love "Thundermonster" and the heartbreaking, acoustic version of "Break A Butterfly On A Wheel" as well as songs from "Infinity Land" like "The Kids From Kibble" or "Wave Upon Wave".  Here is the setlist: 

Click to enlarge

In a related note: Ahead of the shows a group of friends I am happy to be part of created books full of our Biffy memories, pictures, stories as thank you gift for the band and Neil. They were handed over by Lawrence, who had done a great job before collecting everyone's contributions and payments and getting the books done. Thanks a lot also to Monika who had the idea in the first place. Lawrence did not come back from meeting the lads with empty hands but with this video below and yes, I am thanking my parents for giving me such an international easy to pronounce name: 


And here we are now ... Biff-less for at least a year. It does make sense. After these shows we are all unable to attend a "normal" Biffy show for a long time. The band needs a break from all the travel and time to spend with family and friends. A new album needs to be recorded. It just the logical way life goes and it is good. It won't be easy though. 

Nothing more left to say besides one thing:

As much as we all adore the gentleman in the picture below ... for the sake of our lost souls ... he needs to DIE. We promise in return that we'll be the most insanely dressed funeral party ever! 

MON THE DUKE!

PS: There are plenty of videos from the shows on YouTube and some of the best quality ones can be found at the channel of Natrix Video

PPS: All my pictures from the shows can be found here, but there are not so many. I was too busy singing to handle my camera much. 


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You did not really think I would post a Biffy blog post about live shows I attended without a proper James Johnston shot? No? Good ... because here you go (Ben as usual has his cymbals covering most of his face in all the pics - so no good drummer shot):


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