Biffy Clyro are no strangers to these shores, in fact they’ve regularly remarked that it’s almost a second home to them. And it usually feels like a sort of homecoming show when they play here. And this time was no different. In the wonderful surroundings of Belfast’s Waterfront Hall, Biffy Clyro were delivering a slightly more intimate affair than their more recent shows here, from headlining shows at Belsonic, The SSE Arena and a support slot with Muse at T Vital. Those shows were full blown, electric, heavy gigs in support of their number one album Ellipsis. This time the Scottish trio are touring in support of a special MTV Unplugged album.
And special it was. Upon entering the venue, it was impossible not to notice the mystical stage set up, complete with fairy lights, ivy and a tree as the centre piece – obviously styled after their set from their MTV Unplugged show in the Roundhouse, London last year. Before we were treated to the Kilmarnock three-piece, former Reuben band member Jamie Lenman had the daunting task of kicking off the night’s proceedings. His first shows in Ireland in over a decade, Lenman quickly endeared himself to the crowd. With songs such as ‘Moving to Blackpool’ and ‘Last Time’ he had the attention of a now almost full auditorium. His humorous banter with the crowd in between songs, and a glowing review of Belfast’s leading tourist attraction – “what a f***ing rip off” – (have a guess where he was referring to), by the time he got to his cover of Madness ‘It Must Be Love’ and landing his final song ‘Mississippi’ he had more than won the crowd over. One man and a guitar, a bit of charm and he set the tone for the headliners.
As the house lights went down, the cries of “Biffy F***ing Clyro” rose and the band walked onto the stage and took their places. A different kind of show, band seated, acoustic guitars in hand and a seated crowd, frontman Simon Neill remarked “it’s lovely to see you but it’s weird to see you sitting down.” Just over two decades since the band started, it’s testament to the strength of their back catalogue now that they can begin a set with a one-two of fan favourites and hit singles ‘The Captain’ and ‘Biblical.’ The usual blaring electric guitar and thunderous rhythm section may be gone for the night but the acoustic set up lacks none of the power, and judging by the sound of several thousand voices, they agree. What the stripped back approach does provide is not only a reimagining of classic tracks, it also allows the often poignant lyrics and melodies to really shine through. Staying fairly faithful to the MTV Unplugged album track list we’re treated to songs like Puzzle’s ‘Drop It’ and ‘Saturday Superhouse’ right up to Ellipsis tracks like ‘Re-Arrange’; tracks that are suited to an acoustic performance. Where the unplugged tracks really come to life is the heavier songs, big hitters like ‘Black Chandelier’, ‘Different People,’ and ‘Mountains’; it’s an opportunity to hear these songs unlike before. Following another “Biffy F***ing Clyro” outburst, Neil jokes that tonight it’s “Biffy Blooming Clyro.” A personal highlight of any Biffy set is ‘Folding Stars,’ which takes on an even more poignant tone. New songs like ‘Different Kind of Love’ and ‘Adored’ are received well, but it’s fan favourite ‘Bubbles’ which really takes the roof off the place, the crowd rising to their feet and singing the lyrics and guitar parts alike. “Maybe should have played that one sooner,” suggests Neil, clearly impressed with the response to the song. Allowing for a few moments of the “Biffy F***ing Clyro” chants again, the three end the first part of their set with a classic Biffy track, “Machines.”
The band say their thanks and make their exit, the lights go down and right on cue, the feet stomps and chants begin again. The cheers erupt again as Neil walks alone to the front of the stage, illuminated by a single bulb which he swings over the heads of the audience. He hushes the crowd and begins to strum unplugged (literally) and sing ‘Friends and Enemies’, providing one of the evenings more magical moments. Only Revolutions track ‘God & Satan’ follows, before mega hit ‘Many of Horror’ closes an incredible evening of music. A seated crowd at a Biffy show is an unusual thing, a fully acoustic one is just as rare, and something that may not happen again for a long time. Even more unusual was a fully attentive crowd, no chatting, no real heckling, singing only and most importantly – listening. And that’s what the acoustic reworkings allowed. Neil’s vocals were flawless and heartfelt, the harmonies perfect, the lyrics clear and poignant and you really got the impression that the band and audience both sang and felt every single word. Seated in their enchanted forest setting, Biffy Clyro delivered a magical set, a special kind of show. And all shirts remained on. A rare show indeed.
Biffy. Blooming. Clyro.
Review by Conor Kerr