BIFFY CLYRO – Le Bataclan, Paris 25/9/18

There are no other bands that I have ever walked a 12- mile round trip to go and watch apart from when I went to see Biffy Clyro in Edinburgh in 2007. There are also no other bands that I have ever flown to go and watch either. So here I am, reunited with three Scotsmen who clearly mean the world to me and a lot of other people, on a very special tour that sees them strip down their usual gigantic sound to fit the MTV Unplugged formula. Due to the popularity explosion they have experienced in recent years, we couldn’t get tickets to watch them in the UK but, in hindsight, Paris - and this particularly intimate venue – seems a unique setting for this show anyway.

Of course, the world will remember what happened nearly three years ago at Le Bataclan. A stunning building dating back to the mid-1800s, the bars and cafes surrounding it are full of rock fans this evening, of many nationalities, like they would have been on 13th November, 2015. We spoke to a sweet girl who had flown from America because she loves Biffy so much, clutching two small plastic horses in a bag to give to her favourite band member, drummer Ben. It’s an incredible feeling to be there with these people, all the more poignant that this should still be a place for music lovers after what happened here. The moment I set foot inside, myself and my friends are filled with an overwhelming sadness, mixed with the obvious excitement and a little anxiety. We are thinking: ‘this could have been us’. It’s a feeling that lasts long after the show has ended.

(Pic Anna C)

What else is there to do then, but to savour every part of this. Even the fake foliage on the office chairs they are to sit on doesn’t detract from Biffy’s set design, complete with model tree and string lights to add appropriate ambience. From the opening bars of ‘The Captain’, the room is filled with an intense energy, the audience a mass of terrible mock Scots accents, enthusiastically emulating Simon Neil’s distinctive vocal but nevertheless creating a celebration of life that I have never before seen at a gig and probably never will again. Also flanked this evening by a pianist, cellist and second guitarist, the trio are dressed beautifully in suits, Neil with his recently cropped hair (thank God). The production is perfect down to the last detail, so much so that the plus one later says he feels like he was watching a boy band at times. I tut but I admit that I see what he means. There is some choreography as they move around the stage, at one point the drummer and bassist emerging and then fading back into the shadows after providing backing vocals. It’s so different to anything that the band has done before that it can’t help but be surprising, though that is kind of the point.

And when the spotlight goes to Simon for new song ‘Adored’, he is quick to announce this version is not in the least what their new album will sound like. Again, it is a highly polished performance. Standing without his guitar, offering up a weird vulnerability, the melody is contemplative and the mood is hushed. With a set-list showcasing material predominantly from the last three albums, most songs are filled with custom-made moments to routinely clap in time to so might feel a little bit more soulless to the more cynical fans hankering after the likes of ‘Blackened Sky’ or even ‘Infinity Land’. ‘Adored’ is a glimpse of new meaning.

(Pic Steve Gillett)

Their transformation over the years is both faultless and captivating, I think, signalling that life goes on. They have a versatility that should be admired. I want to thank them from the bottom of my jaded, aging heart, by giving them my full attention. It’s encapsulating to soak it in even if we are so close to the band that it’s a little awkward (or maybe that’s because I find it a bit bizarre that I am fan-girling on three men my age). When Simon Neil stands almost in front of us- just him, Ben on glockenspiel and ‘Folding Stars’- it is for this reason too that I am stoic in my lack of tears and even make it dry-eyed through ‘Mountains’, ‘Opposite’ and ‘Machines’. ‘As Dust Dances’ and ‘Justboy’ also creep in like old friends. Someone actually says ‘f*cking hell’ in disbelief when they start playing the latter. Yes, it’s moments like these that smash their way through the glittering veneer with a solid nostalgia while you were questioning if the boy had been lost behind it. A few fans shout ‘Mon the Biff’ and Simon softly sneers: ‘You mon the fucking Biff’. No, there he is.

During the finale of ‘Many of Horror’, I finally start to choke up, a sea of people standing with arms raised, singing at the top of their voices, letting anyone listening know that live music is freedom, even if we are dancing amongst ghosts. It is a profound experience in all seriousness, and one that has touched me deeply. This moment won’t come again, Simon assures us. They are coming back with a heavy metal album next year. Everything is going to be OK. My friends met all three members afterwards but I had already walked across Paris by then. What would I have said to them anyway? Probably something about their well-fitting trousers. As the office chair is wheeled past the waiting faithful few at the end of the evening, complete with plastic leaves still attached, Biffy’s next move will be highly anticipated. So will their trousers. And probably their beards.

Anna C