Tuesday, December 13, 2016

On the road with The Biff - Manchester - 3 December 2016

Biffy lightshow in full beauty

There we are already at the end of the 2016 Ellipsis tour! That sounds sad and I AM sad but then again ... not that terribly much ... just a bit melancholic. There are plans for next year already and you can expect more Biffy adventures on here. But before it is time to say good bye to the Biff for a little while we got one more gig to talk about and that is the one in Manchester. 

Our home base for the weekend were the Premiere Suites - not a regular hotel, but serviced apartments. It was good, but the place turned out to be as big as my flat (booked one bedroom got 2 bedrooms) and we could have housed half of the crew if we would have known this ahead of the trip. The apartments come with a full kitchen which we did not use at all, but if you plan to stay a bit longer in Manchester or need something to share with a few more people to lower the costs this is actually a good choice.
What I can also strongly recommend is the Café North right next door to the Premier Suites. The breakfast was excellent, there were also vegetarian options for the cooked breakfast available and they had a big selection of dairy free and super delicious smoothies.
Also if you happen to be in Manchester around Christmas take some time to visit the Christmas Market - it is huge and reminded me very much of the big city center Christmas Markets in Germany. 

LOOK - there's Gambler! 
Let's talk about the show:
This is the story of a bunch of people trying to be reasonable adults. Yes, I can hear you laughing and I am laughing with you. "Nice try!" is really the appropriate comment for this. What is so funny? Well. We got seats. Yes, actual seats. A whole bunch of us did.
When I told a friend about this - in the front row in Glasgow - he spontaneously checked if I had a fever and maybe I had? The thing is - there were lots of good reasons. Seats meant that we could take a later train / flights, meet the Biffy pals for an extended pub pre-show meet up, no queue, no rush, no front row anxiety with Manchester Arena being famous for being difficult / unpredictable with doors, no one that can limit your sight, full view of the light show and not half closed eyes because of lasers pointing at you for two hours. Doesn't it
 sound like heaven? Doesn't it sound even more like heaven for a middle aged person that was on her 5th (4 Biffy, 1 Twin Atlantic) gig in 8 days? It sure did ... until it didn't. Nope, no, never again. I am not made for this. No more envious staring on the little bobbleheads of the friends down there at the front ever again.
To be fair: It was not really bad. We sang, we danced, we actually could see very well and I would prefer a good seat over a bad standing spot in the middle of the crowd any time, but it just is not the same show as you would experience if you were right by the stage.  Oh well ... life is a learning curve, isn't it?

But the sights ... the sights were indeed spectacular!

The Wee Man


Ben on the big screen
What made the show awesome but the seat situation not easier was the fact that this was a great crowd. I heard a few people calling it "tame", but I cannot confirm this. At a big venue like this you can totally stand unharmed at the one end while at the other end hell breaks loose.
From our seats we could see people rock at the front but as limited as you are being able to do so relatively squeezed into the dense crowd in the first rows. What we could also see was the circle pit that formed several times more towards the middle of the standing room. It was seriously big and looked much like a hurricane on a weather forecast map. The moshing break down of "That Golden Rule" looked awesome (and for a moment I was not too sad about being in my hypersafe seat). 

Happy James
Photo: Anita Ivanković
Let's get to the highlight of my last 2016 show and that was this time: "The Captain"

I love "The Captain". I have the final lines tattooed on my arms. I think the opening of the encore is the perfect placement and the only song I like as much (at least) in this spot is "Glitter & Trauma".
A huge arena like this (The capacity is 21,000. It was not 100% sold out but very, very busy) is the right place for the big anthemic songs like "The Captain" and what I could eye-witness here (Yay .. seats?) was absolutely beautiful. There is nothing quite like it than seeing the arms of almost 20k people point to the stage on the loudest "Whooooo" I ever heard right into a burst of white light. I LOVED IT! 

Yeah ... and then after two more songs it was over. Done and gone. The worst part really was saying good bye to all the Biffy friends for at least a couple of weeks. That bunch of people is special and has all my heart. 

The next couple of days for the shows in Cardiff and Birmingham I was fine. The pics were awesome and especially the reports from the Cardiff gig were enthusiastic. I was too tired though to have a real desire to be still on the road and my voice was completely gone as well. I could have seriously not made another gig. Then came London, the final gig at the O2, and that was .... painful. For me. For the band it was the GRAND FINALE they deserved so so so much and I could not be happier for them that it was such a triumph.

Biffy Clyro - Thank you for the music, the good times, the memories and the love! 

Source: Biffy Clyro Official Facebook Page

YesDragon - Be My Armour 

"Be My Armour" can be purchased here

When you hit the road with your favorite band and your friends you know that it will be a very intense time. It is a little escape into another world where you do nothing but hanging out with your best people doing only what you love doing the most. It is amazing (and just in case you are wondering: no, it is not boring at all) and all about emotions. Happiness though - and that is what we are talking about - is never permanent and neither is a tour. Part of the magic is that it is limited. The downside is that you know that at the end you will be sad and hurting for at least a little while. The ambivalence is inevitable. You cannot have the happiness without the sadness. 

It is the same with this song. It makes me sad. Significantly sad. I cannot even really tell why. It just cuts right through all my shells like music does - good music at  least. Yet ... I listen to it. I even listen to it often on repeat because it is also beautiful and probably my favorite song from the YesDragon EPs so far. It is the same ambivalence, I think. You cannot have the beauty without the sadness - you either take it both or you leave with nothing and that is never the best choice. 

Sunday, December 11, 2016

On the road with The Biff - Glasgow - 29 November 2016

The Biff at the Hydro

After one short day off the road that I barely remember, because ... TIRED it was time for the Glasgow gig. Obviously I cannot post any recent hotel recommendations from my own experience because Glasgow means I can go home after the gig and sleep in my own very comfortable bed. That was such a weird feeling though. I am not exactly sure why it is not weird for any other band I have seen since I am a resident of this amazing city but for Biffy - yet it was. I still felt like I was on a trip double checking where my passport was (in my bag because - ID checks) and kind of always thought of my not existing travel schedule. Strange ...

Anyway ... although I personally do not need a hotel anymore, I will list some places for gig travelers who come to Glasgow. If you are attending a show at the Hydro there is a Hilton Garden Inn right by the venue and a Premier Inn just across the river. If you are on a budget the Euro Hostel and the Easy Hotel in the city center might work for you and if you fancy a bit of luxury I can recommend Hotel Indigo. Glasgow is not that big of a city and usually as long as your accommodation is in or close to the city center you are fine. I personally also booked Airbnb places in the West End quite frequently in the past and they were all nice, too.
If you are looking for a good place for dinner before around a Hydro show - or to interrupt the waiting time in the queue to warm up with some nice food - Glasgow's hipster mile Argyle Street in Finnieston is only a short walk away and has plenty of dining options for every taste and budget. 

If you are planning to visit Glasgow I recommend to plan in a bit of extra time if you can because it is awesome here. I might be a biased though. A bit.  

Si gazing out
Alright ... it took me a few days to get my thoughts together about this gig. 
I kind of wanted this to be the highlight of the tour so badly. The band's hometown show. My hometown show. But ... as much as I want it to be the best one - it was not. The band is not to blame. They were on fire and loved playing for their home crowd and of course also for their friends and families in the house. 

Jimbo up on the platform
It would also not be really fair to blame the crowd - they were up for it and the singalongs were really loud, but I think part of the problem is that the Barrowlands ruined me and my expectations. Bellahouston was a bit different because it had a festival feeling to it and was majestic by the size alone and the great atmosphere all around. The Hydro on the other hand was the first proper Glasgow indoor show since that exceptional weekend and somehow I had that type of crowd in my mind - well knowing that no 15,000 people arena audience would be able to live up to it, but rational thinking is one thing and the heart is another thing. And my heart wanted people to sing along the guitar lines, freaking out to "Wave Upon Wave" instead of making puzzled faces from about 5 rows into the crowd and you know ... it being special. The Hydro audience was great but it was just the average arena crowd in the end. I know this sounds almost arrogant and it's not that it was not a good show - it totally was. It was just not as outrageously awesome when it comes to the atmosphere as I had hoped for. I think. I don't know really. It is probably just me. What I definitely enjoyed though was having so many people I love in one place. THAT was really special to me although some were missing because it was week day and quite a lot of people could sadly not make the trip. 

Great Vennart action
Before we come to the highlight of the show let's have a quick word about the Hydro itself because I think the venue plays quite a big role in everything mentioned above. It was my 2nd show at this venue and ... I really do not like it. I think it is an amazing place when you want to see a pop act with many big screens and catwalks build into the crowd and dancers and all that stuff, but is a quite bad place for rock concerts. There are too many seats and not enough standing room and the seats are too far away from the stage. If I compare that with Manchester Arena or what I have seen of the O2 in London - there are seats very close to the stage where you feel part of the show almost like down on the floor, but everyone with a seat at the Hydro is seriously far away. Also the venue is oddly shaped and that leaves weird empty standing room left and right of the stage - at least with a set up like Biffy had. It was strange and it did not help the atmosphere.
On a positive note: The much feared paperless ticket thing worked surprisingly well and the team at the entrance appeared to be dealing fairly well with the card readers and the whole process. And while it was not as awesome as in Belfast all security folks I met that night were nice, friendly and helpful. 

The highlight .... is odd because I have to say that it was "Many Of Horror".  It IS a great song but I listened to it countless times live now and I personally do not need it really, but it works. It god damn works and it was in the end the moment when I got some chills from all the voices filling the room like it should be. 

I know it is impossible - at least for a regular show - but I wish next time we could just go back to the Barras and be there with "The Family" like in those memorable December nights in 2014. I know you cannot repeat things and it will never be the same, but there is really nothing like being with your closest people in that special room singing along and really feeling it. I will be back at the Barrowlands twice in the next 7 days and you can bet I will let out more than one big sigh when climbing these stairs ... 

YesDragon - Dick Panto

That is more like I wanted that night to be .. heavy voodoo, you know, burning shit up and all that. There will be another day when all that will happen in Glasgow again, too. I am sure. It IS one of the best places in the world to rock out - just the Hydro is not. 

The "Dick Panto" EP can be purchased here

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

On the road with The Biff - Belfast - 27 November 2016

Biffy Clyro - Ben & James vocals for "Medicine"

Back to back was the theme of this weekend and on we went up North to Belfast. After some hassle with finding the right bus stop and a much, much needed nap during the trip we arrived in Northern Ireland around lunch time.
When the tour was announced I had no second thoughts about doing Belfast as well. It is such a short flight back to Glasgow that I could do that on Monday morning before work (it was very painful but it worked) and our experience with our first trip to Belfast had been such a good one that it did sound like a great idea to do it all again. There were also no second thoughts about the hotel because the Premiere Inn Titantic Quarter is directly next to the venue and the accommodation of choice.  We had stayed there in the summer as well and there is nothing to complain. It is a classic Premiere Inn - nothing fancy but clean rooms, comfortable beds, friendly staff and booked early it is really affordable. If you go to a show in Belfast at the arena or Belsonic I can also really recommend to plan in some spare time for the Titanic Museum & Experience - it is pretty awesome and well worth the time and money. 

We did not have time though ... we had a show to go to!

Best security ever!
Before we come to the music let's talk about the people who made this day really special:  The local security team! 
Usually when the topic comes to the security at gigs the typical fan reaction is an annoyed groan. Sadly so very often the local staff does not make the fan life easier but a lot harder. After watching desperate people queuing for hours in the cold they seem to feel a little power when they can have people wait that extra few minutes, take their time to figure out the scanners while the doors are wide open and people are flooding in left and right and then top it all with comments like "You got time. It is a big place."  Fuck no ... we do not have time. If a fan decides to queue it is for a reason and that reason is not "Ah well ... let's go to the bar and the cloak room, get food and drink and then check out venue."  The reason is that the person in the queue has decided to sacrifice a good portion of the day to make it to the barrier. This type of behavior from the security can seriously ruin the whole gig experience and it happens every day, all around the world at countless shows. Belfast though ... Belfast knows how it's done!

The company responsible for this event was the same who was also responsible for the superb organisation at Belsonic and this time around it was easily as good. Very early in the afternoon the first security showed up and gave clear directions where to queue in front of the ONE door. Once it got more busy barriers were keeping the queue in place and every 50 people one element was put in to avoid rushing and queue jumping upon entry. The security was sticking around chatting, answering questions and making sure everyone was alright. About half an hour before doors the first group at the head of the queue was advised that male and female guests would get separate checks and how to queue for it.  When the doors opened in time the checks on bags and tickets were quick and efficient. Behind doors the next group of security was already waiting and leading the first people slowly to the barrier. No one was allowed to pass or run. It was the easiest and fairest entry to a venue ever with a free choice of the barrier spot for us. Absolute perfection. 
And that was not all! The gentlemen in the picture above were the security in the pit. They were the funniest and nicest guys ever. They shared their sweets with us, we had more than one laugh and during the show they never stopped handing out water and continuously checked on the people as deep into the crowd as they could manage. It made SUCH a difference.  I really wish other venues / security teams would make a trip to Belfast and learn from the example. It put Norther Ireland high on my list of places to go back to for a gig. 

James Johnston
The show .... was so much more relaxed for everyone involved. After having trouble to see Mike the night before due to one of the light frames we now moved a bit more to the middle and claimed a spot with free sight of everyone (but Gambler - the master of hiding). 

We watched in awe how the stage crew after the support band Brand New in only 30 minutes finished the switch over for Biffy. That is an incredible short amount of time for such a big show. 
Just like us the band seemed to be more comfortable and confident with the set up also and moved around in a way more relaxed way on the huge stage with its many ramps and platforms. For us at the front there was still so much to see but of course we knew better what to expect and enjoyed the show a lot more. It was just so much fun to sing along and rock that barrier.  

Simon Neil - No zoom
At the end of the regular set it was time for Si's catwalk and the reaction of the crowd in Belfast was of course much the same as in Dublin. As I was standing quite a lot more in the middle Simon now stood not more than an arm length away from me. I surely enjoyed that short glimpse of feeling like being at small, intimate gig. It is also quite amazing and beautiful to watch how he comes out smiling and communicating with the folks at the front but then just closes his eyes and turns inward for the song. What is much less beautiful to witness though is that people seem to be unable to SHUT THE FUCK UP.  Why it is so incredibly hard for so many people to bloody stop talking at least through the acoustic songs??? Me and one of my pals on the other side of the catwalk both had to give out "SHUT UPS!!!" to the talkers around us. I really have no understanding and patience for this.

Mike V. - He's in the band, too!
My highlight of the night for this show was "On A Bang".  I do like the song anyway but it feels like it gets stronger and stronger the more often they play it live. It has grown into a proper monster now - a big, pretty, noisy monster and I love it. 

I also enjoyed very much that I am finally able to take full Vennart action shots. There are a lot more to share from the Glasgow show because I had an even better view on our man on the guitar, but I really like this one already. 

Thank you Belfast! You were beautiful and nice and fun and I will be back! 

YesDragon - Oil And Glue 

"Oil And Glue" is from the "7 Bells" EP which can be purchased here
It is one of those songs that gives me personally that kind of not really rationally to explain fuzzy, warm, happy feeling inside and that fits perfectly to the trip to Belfast.  It was a perfect, mostly stress free day spent with the best friends (minus Villate - we missed you!) and the best band around. It does not get much better. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

On the road with The Biff - Dublin - 26 November 2016

Simon Neil

This is hard. Of course my heroic plans to update this blog while on the road failed. I barely got enough sleep anyway and I had only one day off work during all this madness. There was just no chance to make it happen and now I am sitting here with a serious post tour heartache trying to catch up on the events. So let's do this!

Let's go back to start  .... (nothing falling apart here though) and to Glasgow Airport on Friday night before the first show. Flying out in the evening instead of the morning feels kind of weird but it is much more fun if you are not traveling alone and meet up with even more people at the airport in Dublin already. I love when the Biff hit the road and my Facebook feed turns into an endless row of *insert friend's name* is traveling from X to *insert place where the band plays*.

Our hotel for two nights was The Gibson Hotel right by the venue. That place is quite fancy and pricey and I think for the money it costs it is just below what I would expect, but the location is not to beat ... you basically sleep in front of the queue so to say. Friday night was not really exciting - after one drink at the bar in good company of the Biff's stage crew we hit the hay.

The next day though? Super exciting!!! The first day of a tour is something really special and if it is a big arena tour where you have not seen the stage nor the production yet it is even more special. I always love watching the crew setting up the stage - as every Instagram follower knows from my traditional "Churd pic" before the show - but now it was all "What is this?" "God damn is this stage high!", "Why are they testing a microphone at the barrier and store it under the stage?", "Will they step out on these metal plates at the edge of the stage?"  "Oh look ... there are platforms at the very end of each side of the stage!" "Can you see Mike's microphone from here?"  "Where the hell sits Gambler again?" Questions over questions and no answers just yet ...

But then it was time!!!

Biffy Clyro
It was quite overwhelming ... all that light!!!  I will keep the main pictures of the stage for the Manchester blog post because I had seats there and a much better view, but what I can in general say is that I liked the balance of this production. It was huge and elaborate and super impressive but it always worked in support of the music. They kept it close to the purpose of visually carrying the music into the wide room. I think what needed the most adjustment for us in the front was the fact that the band was so high up and pretty far away - for our measures - for most of the show, but the extended visits on said metal plates at the edge of the stage and the platforms made it fairly easy to deal with. One thing I really liked was the fact that Si and James at several points of the show would switch sides. I have my usual spot with James and Mike and would not trade it for the world, but it is very nice to have Simon over visiting. 

James & Mike out there
Lots of people wonder why one would go and see so many shows and especially go back to back but that day I was so happy I would do Belfast as well, because it was so hard to keep up with everything that was going on and some things hit me completely unprepared like for example:  MIKE!
If you follow my Biffy stuff you know about my constant complaints that there is no proper light over Mike Vennart's head and that it is so hard to properly see and even harder to take pictures of him. Not this time though! While he is having his own (not so) little platform for most of the show, he is for some songs - especially That Golden Rule (he even climbs James's platform!) and Stingin' Belle - stepping out into the bright light of the center stage. It was hilarious and awesome when he did that the first time and the lot of diehards at the front including me just screamed "MIIIIIIIIIIIIKEEEEE" when he came out. That man had his own screaming fan club right there. It is one of my very favorite things of the whole show and I sure was better prepared with my camera in Belfast and Glasgow to catch the events.

Captain on his catwalk
Speaking of screaming. Do you remember that question from above about the microphone stored under the stage? Here is what it is for: The Captain's visit to the front row. 

Although the show is seriously long the end of the regular set comes closer so fast and before you realize it is time for the big "Many Of Horror" sing along and you can sense the end is near, but not just yet ... 
The light goes out for the guitar change and after some hectic movement in the pit one light goes on and then he is right there ... just one arm length and the span of a microphone stand away from the barrier - all the way down from that tower of a stage.
The effect is as you would image - especially here in Dublin where it still hit everyone as a total surprise hundreds of people released a collective "Oh my god."  heading for the small catwalk with their phones ups. As you can see I did not move an inch and I also kept it to a few pictures for this blog (*spoiler* - the next day I was closer to this anyway) because the song played here is "Machines" and deserves as much unspoiled attention as possible. I will talk about this more in tomorrow's blog post but this set up was absolutely intense and beautiful. 

The encore afterwards consists of my much loved "The Captain",  the not so much loved (but live it is okay and the final platform switch of Si and James makes it even better) "People" and the closer "Stingin' Belle" with the above mentioned Mike Vennart feature in the final sequence. More about this and most importantly PICTURES as well in the Belfast blog. 

Highlights ... it is so hard to single out highlights when you are completely blown away by the whole production and a two hours setlist, but there is always a good indicator - at least for me - and that's ... tears and the Dublin tears were surely flowing the most for the one and only "JUSTBOY" that made a glorious return to the set. 

What a happy day and nothing really feels better than leaving the show knowing that you will do it all again ... and again ... and again (until you don't *sigh*). 

YesDragon - Liberty Bell

I meant to switch EPs and not to stick to one, but after thinking it through "Liberty Bell" fits energy wise best to the feel of the Dublin show.
"Let's build ourselves a city ..." - our city is mobile and we take it from town to town, but it is our city. The group of friends that the music brought together is very, very special and the tour start on a Saturday allowed most of the crew to come together. Traveling for the gigs a group makes us feel free and "at home" at the same time which is probably one of the best combinations possible. 

Also ... god damn ... what a riff!!!!

The "Hustle" EP can be purchased here