Monday, October 31, 2016

On the road with The Biff - Munich - 23 October 2016


Not long after London it was time for the start of the proper Ellipsis European Tour. One of the first stops for the band was ... my old hometown Munich and that would be where I would start my Ellipsis journey, too. So basically it was back to the roots for me to begin something new.  

Coming back to Munich was very weird. The first couple of hours were very nice - my friend Gabrijela picked me up at the airport together with her (my god-) daughter and we went to the playground enjoying the very nice fall sunshine.
In the evening Gabrijela dropped me off by my hotel. The super nice hotel I had booked for my last night before the move was a bit too pricey for a longer stay and so I opted for the Cocoon Hotel Munich Stachus instead. It is located between the main station and Karlsplatz (Stachus). The area is not the nicest - like most main station areas - but there are a lot of hotels because the city center and tourist sights are very close by. It is also only five minutes walk from the Munich office of my company where I would work on the Monday after the show. The location was ideal for me and would be great for everyone who wants to explore Munich. The hotel is not super fancy but it is new and very modern and clean and comfortable. For a city trip it is all you need really. The breakfast costs just 9,99 € and is amazing - I strongly recommend booking it if you ever decide to stay there. 
After checking into my room I quickly went for a shopping spree at some of my fave shops. When I was walking down Kaufinger Straße I started to feel really weird. I lived in this city for 16 years and I knew exactly where I was going but it felt so different. Kind of ... disconnected?  I felt like a stranger with an extremely good orientation. Everything looked familiar but felt very unfamiliar. I was aware that I at some point might feel that way when visiting Munich but I did not think it would happen so fast. I thought it would be more a "coming home" type of feeling but it was absolutely not. Looks like Glasgow became even more my home already than I thought. That's kind of bittersweet. On one hand Glasgow IS home and so everything is right like it is, but I kind of felt the farewell to my old life a lot more intense now than at the day I actually left. Probably I was too exhausted and excited on that day to get through to it. 

The next morning after enjoying the excellent hotel breakfast I was heading out to the venue.  It has been a long time since I properly queued for a show, but in Munich it had to happen. Sadly the venue - Zenith - isn't great.  It is big and if you are at the back the sound is terrible and you see absolutely nothing (you can go over the wings but still ...).  It is the type of place where you better make the barrier to be able to really enjoy it. Thankfully for the majority of the day it was sunny and I had great company of much loved friends.
Much less enjoyable was the actual entrance into the venue at doors. I had print-at-home tickets because that is safer when you order from another country, but the security took FOREVER to scan the codes and there is nothing more frustrating than a long day of queuing and then having dozens of people being in before you anyway. I made the barrier with a LOT of luck and the good will of some folks (which I did not know before) that had queued with us. In the end I even got my normal spot in front of James and Mike. Once I had settled down the only thing between me and my first show of the tour was some wait time ... and Lonely The Brave. Thankfully the latter ones did not play for more than 30 minutes. I know lots of my friends are fans and like them, but it is a big NOPE for me. The music is not bad, but kind of dull. I cannot make a single song stick in my brain even if I try and I really do not like the way they manage their stage presence. It is a bit sad .. Arcane Roots and Walking Papers last tour were so much more fun, but I have my hopes up for Brand New on the UK tour. 

Finally it was time and there are not many things that feel better than the moment the light goes down, the intro music goes up and finally the first song - for this tour "Wolves Of Winter" - kicks in. It is always the moment all the effort feels already worth it.
Biffy were amazing. The current set list is amazing - very energetic and exciting. One of my personal highlights for sure was hearing "Herex" live for the first time. I had a feeling already that it would have a completely different dynamic live and that was definitely the case. It is a lot of fun and the heavy outro is incredible - so powerful. I generally enjoy hearing the new songs a lot - it makes it all feel fresh and exciting. Thankfully the list of new and currently played songs also includes "In The Name Of The Wee Man", which - I cannot point this out often enough - might rank for me as one of the top 5 best Biffy songs of all time. It makes me shiver in the best way on record and it makes me drift on a cloud of sound and words live. It is just IT. 

Then we got "Wave Upon Wave"! I love this song to pieces and the version Biffy are playing live at the moment is fantastic. It is showcasing in such a great way what magnificent musicians all five are and that "Do you believe in magic?" line is basically what this gig traveling is all about. On the downside I do miss the "WAVE FUCKING WAVE" screams. I totally get that it is not happening. A few years and lots of voice coaching lessons later it is a reasonable decision to not do it, but ..... it is still a bit sad. I also miss the hand claps (besides Mike's honorable effort in the intro) and that leads automatically to what I most did not like about it in Munich: It is sadly wasted to most of the audience. The Zenith in Munich is not the Barras in Glasgow and a moment like this makes you painfully aware of it. The good point about "Wave Upon Wave" though is that  - other than some of the other older and more rare songs I heard them trying in front of a bigger crowd before - it is not killing the flow. I just hope that irritated faces from about row 5 to the back of the venue are not stopping them from putting songs like "Wave Upon Wave" on the set lists. 

One of the most interesting things for me was to see what "Re-arrange" is doing to people - people as in not the hardcore fans who like it really weird and complex and heavy, but the other 6,000 people standing behind us. What is happening there is quite magical. I guess ... it is watching live and in person how a song becomes a hit. When I was sitting later in the night in the train back to the city center basically my whole carriage packed with people was still singing "Re-arrange". 

Other than that it is just worth mentioning that it was a great show but will not go down as one of my favorites because of Munich being Munich and the Zenith being Zenith. It is just not a great place and Munich does not have the best crowds. I know ... it sure felt not that way for many of the people there (and good for you that you had the best time), but if you have the comparison with the crowd in other places you know the difference.  If - to stay in Germany even - I remember how incredible the crowd was in Münster in April or if you watch the Reading set from August then you know there is room for improvement. I also need to apologize to Mike for my countryman shouting "Oceansize reunite!" right behind me. While I appreciate that he at least knows that there are 5 people on the stage, that was so annoying and I could see Mike rolling his eyes in front of me (and so did I in my VENNART shirt). It was a great night nevertheless and definitely a good start for my tour.
Next stop will be Cologne with the back-to-back shows of The Twilight Sad / The Cure and Biffy. That will be very exciting (and exhausting). 

On the Monday after the show I went to work in the Munich office and that felt for a change very "normal" - like I had never moved away.  The trip back via Amsterdam was long, exhausting and like a weird déjà-vu again. Hanging out at Schiphol I had to think about how often I had traveled that route in those two years of going back and forth between Munich and Glasgow and I realized how stressful that was and I how incredibly glad I am that this is now an exception and not a routine anymore.

YesDragon - Hay Mirror 

This song is from the 2nd EP called "7 Bells".  I chose this track because that trip to Munich had a lot of self-reflection, of looking in the mirror to it. It is also catchy as hell. Just hear how vivid that bass is!

The "7 Bells" EP which includes "Hay Mirror" can be purchased here.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

New Series: On the road with The Biff - Introduction and first stop in Kingston


I haven't written anything for the blog lately because every time I felt like writing it was about scary and depressing stuff like Brexit. This thing turns more and more into a full blown nightmare for the country, for lots of the country's citizens and for me ... that EU foreigner living and working in the UK for a company that sells UK produced goods to customers all over Europe. Basically my whole way of living .. my home, my work .. it all got a question mark behind now by this dump bullshit. Most of the days I just put this aside because it does not make much sense to put energy into things you cannot influence, but it is not easy at times to not freak out. Thankfully Scotland and the people here make me feel at home. I did not hear one stupid comment about EU foreigners going "home" anywhere here at all (and not from my English friends and colleagues either).

ANYWAY ... while this blog is definitely a place to share thoughts and fears and worries it should also be a place to share the love and light and all the good things. I felt there were not enough good things on here for a while now and that although life is - despite the general worries about the downward-spiraling state of the world - pretty good. So I decided to pick up writing again and start a series about my favorite good thing in the world ... The Biff.  Better ... touring with the Biff .. traveling, spending time with friends, seeing great places and enjoying the music. 

I will try to stick to the same pattern for every upcoming installment and tell you about 
  • the trip including accommodation recommendations and such things if I have some. I am old and have a bit more budget than most of the gig travelers so think more affordable but nice hotels than hostels. There might be something about the actual travel destinations as well but do not expect too much. We touring people usually do not see much more than the airport, the hotel and the venue. It is all less exciting than it seems and a lot is about securing some rest, food, drink and acceptable bathrooms. 
  • the show ... obviously because it is about the music mainly 
  • The going home music. I do not know how this works for you but while I can listen to the band I am going to see for hours on the way TO the show I cannot listen to them for a bit AFTER the show. That was always the case and not just for Biffy. After a good show everything from record feels like only the second best choice and I need to give it a break.
    Lucky if you have more than one band / artist you like as much and my man especially for an emotionally fragile state of mind - like the hungover post gig mood - is usually Dragon (Sucioperro, Medals, YesDragon).  At the moment I'm listening mostly to the brand new awesome stuff from the YesDragon EPs and the releases will accompany the tour for a good while. So every gig travel post will feature one YesDragon song that fits to the respective gig trip with streaming and / or video and of course the purchase link.  Give it a listen and if you like what you hear, buy the EPs. They just cost £ 4 each and downloading only takes a quick minute. 

So let's try this out already: 

Stop 1 -  Kingston upon Thames - 9 October 2016

When the acoustic show - as a very fancy version of an "in store" gig for the fabulous Kingston based Banquet Records - was announced I did not expect that I would be able to go. Tickets were rare and hard to get (queuing in person required, which I could not do being hundreds of miles away). It happened though with a lot of voodoo and help of kind souls and good luck that not only I could go but most of my Biffy pals as well. A big part of making this possible was down to the band itself who added a second show before the actual event to give more people a chance to get their hands on a ticket. 

When the Kingston weekend arrived I had actually spent most of that week already in London for work and was not exactly excited to go back to the big city (might be an unpopular opinion but I am not a fan) but what can you do?  I traveled with friends by train down South and that was good fun.
Accommodation for the weekend was the Tune Hotel near Liverpool Street Station / Shoreditch which I can recommend.  It is for London measures quite affordable and brand new. For dinner I took my friends to my favorite Wahaca at Charlotte Street. If you like delicious, reasonably priced Mexican food Wahaca is your place to go. There are several restaurants in London and other cities including a new one in Edinburgh now as well. I hope Glasgow gets one next

On the gig day we escaped London fairly early to travel to Kingston upon Thames, which is an absolutely beautiful little town. I loved it!  
The last proper Biffy tour had been quite a while ago and so the occasion was perfect to catch up with the gig pals over the day.
The band arrived in the early afternoon and were so gracious to take a lot of time to say hello, catch up with everyone, hug, cuddle, laugh, pull faces, take pictures and sign stuff. There were so many happy faces beaming with big smiles - just beautiful. 

At 6 pm the doors opened for the first show which went on for about 45 minutes and then lots of smiling people came out of the venue - many to go back to the queue and re-enter for show 2 because they were lucky enough to secure tickets for both.
I personally just went to the second show and that's more than fine with me because that show was all I had ever hoped for.  I could watch it from a prime first row spot and I enjoyed it so much. Besides the quick in store for the album release in Glasgow it was my first time to see a proper Biffy acoustic gig and the setlist was made of my dreams.
I am not ashamed to admit that music can make me very emotional and when Si put that harmonica holder around his neck my heart almost stopped ... would they ... would they maybe play "Drop It" ... that odd little extra track that they played only half dozen times spread over almost a decade? That little song that has all my heart?  It took maybe half a chord to confirm and yes ... yes ... DROP IT! Let's just say there were tears. Lots of happy tears.
I barely had my shit together again for the next song when accompanied by loud "YESSSS!" shouts from all over the venue the intro of "A Whole Child Ago" kicked in. Another song one barely gets to hear anymore. The one single time I heard it live before at the Barras we had a lyrics hick up that broke my heart a little because it is the first verse I really love. This time all was good on the lyrics front and the song sounds AMAZING played acoustic. When Simon finally announced that the next song after that would be "Breatheher" we got to a point where down in the audience we were giving out Hi5s gratulating each other that we actually made it to this very special night.
The whole set was amazing, but another highlight was definitely "Re-arrange" when the crowd directed by our friend Jamie on the balcony and also a laughing Si and Ben on the stage managed to adjust to the correct hand clapping pattern. Just see yourself - we had the best of times:

To me this day is on the same level of awesome with one of the Barras shows. It was of course a much shorter set, but it was so out of the ordinary (the two sets were btw completely different and had only 2 songs played both times) and very intimate ... something rare in the time of arena shows and festival headliner sets. It was also so close to the feeling of the Barras because the audience was just right .. so so many familiar faces of folks who really love that band and know their business when it comes to lyrics and the appreciation of rarely played tracks. Just perfect.

I think it is safe to say that the band enjoyed the day as well - here is the post show picture proof:

Source: Biffy Clyro on Instagram

YesDragon -  A Game Of Kings 

This song was actually not yet released when the show in Kingston happened but since it is a beautiful acoustic tune that perfectly fits to the feel of that day it is my choice for the first link. 

The "Dick Panto" EP which includes "A Game Of Kings" can be purchased here