Biffy Clyro, MTV Unplugged - Royal Albert Hall
Scottish rock juggernauts Biffy Clyro are mostly known for their bombastic frenzy of a live show, that rarely lets up in energy or passion. For their latest tour they are showcasing their more tender side however, giving fans who missed on their ‘one-off’ performance for MTV Unplugged at the Roundhouse last November a chance to take in the full Biffy acoustic experience.
For the London date, the venue was the historic Royal Albert Hall - a location with an esteemed place in British culture, and a perfect setting for such a grand affair. The chasmic auditorium is slightly vertigo-inducing from the upper circle, but offers unparalleled views from wherever you may be located unlike a lot of purpose-built venues around. The vigorous anti-touting measures taken by the band and their team before the tour definitely benefited the electric atmosphere, the rafters filled with Biffy Clyro fans with few empty seats to be seen.
First to grace the nature-adorned stage were another Scottish trio, in Aberdeen’s The Xcerts. Their seven-song acoustic set leant heavily on their recent fourth album Hold On To Your Heart, frontman Murray MacLeod somewhat humorously remarking that ‘they are usually a lot louder than this’ as the band burst into the hooky power pop of Daydream. While their stripped-back affair obviously lacked the gravitas of this evening’s headliner, their criminally underrated songwriting and musicianship held up well as a more than excellent warm up act. Their new EP Late One Night features five acoustic versions of tracks from Hold On To Your Heart, and is out 5th October on Raygun Records.
To much applause and long trademarked chants of "Mon The Biff", Simon Neil, James Johnston and Ben Johnston took to the comparatively minute stage, with the unusual sight of all members being fully clothed! To any Biffy Clyro fan that has been to one of their shows, they’d know that this is an extreme rarity. A couple of hecklers did make this point to Simon Neil directly, who promptly put them in their place...
After a surprisingly subdued start of The Captain and Biblical, the 22-song set flowed with ease as the evening progressed - marrying cuts from their angular sounding early material, to the more polished compositions that have informed their recent studio albums. The trio were able to capture a myriad of emotions, from the stark anguish of As Dust Dances (prior to this tour this track hadn’t been played since 2010), to the fleeting hopefulness of Different People, to the blunt melancholy of Opposite. A wave of emotion was present in the latter, as Simon dedicated it onstage to the recently belated Scott Hutchison of Frightened Rabbit.
It was surprising to see more jaunty cuts from the Biffy catalogue get the unplugged treatment (who was expecting Saturday Superhouse on this tour?!), but even more of a pleasant surprise to see how rejuvenated many of the Biffy tracks sounded when stripped back. One example would be Re-arrange, a song that previously came across as sanitary and dull, yet the unplugged version just brought out so much life that the studio version just doesn’t command.
The difficulty with unplugged formats is often finding a way to implement variety. Safe to say though, Biffy Clyro had no such problem. For the Puzzle rarity Drop It Simon Neil produced some wonderful melodic goodness on a harmonica, whilst Ben Johnston vacated the drum stool in favour of a glockenspiel accompaniment for an emotive rendition of Folding Stars. The first song of the encore - Friends and Enemies - had another surprise in store, as Neil returned to play this number with no microphone/amplification whatsoever, eventually rejoined by the Johnston twins to add their signature vocal harmonies. It was a memorable moment that encapsulated how much thought has gone into this set of shows.
As the show wound down to its inevitable conclusion, fan favourites Justboy, Bubbles and Machines all received a rapturous reception. Ending with the incredible Many of Horror was only a natural move at this point - with over five thousand fans singing their heart out, their voices ringing out over the Royal Albert Hall in one of the most ethereal moments I’ve ever experienced.
It’s probably not worth the mental energy trying to work out how a band as brilliant as Biffy Clyro are somehow better unplugged than they are with a full power rig behind them. Simon Neil did remark onstage that it’d be unlikely they do a tour like this again, but in all honesty it’d be an absolute travesty if they don’t at least look at the possibility of it. One of the greatest live bands in the world when they are on top of their game, and that was most definitely the case on the MTV Unplugged tour.
MON. THE. BIFFY.