Last week, the two halves of This Decay Records took in an arena show. It was the same show, but a day and many miles apart. Biffy Clyro’s run in the UK with Brand New attracted a range of fans, with Biffy’s mainstream appeal and Brand New’s ultra-cool credibility creating a potent mixture in heady surroundings.
We decided to review a band each.
Brand New in London
I’ve seen Brand New a bunch of times, from a 2003 Finch support slot at the Pyramids Centre on the seafront at Portsmouth to a characteristically obtuse performance at the Kentish Town Forum years later. But I’d yet to see any of their larger shows, nor anything since the release of Daisy in 2009.
It’s not very punk rock to say it, but seeing a band I’ve loved since their first record take to the stage in an arena the size of The O2 was very exciting. Brand New’s music deserves a room of that size, and this 45-minute outing was nothing short of scintillating.
The setlist couldn’t have been better. The legendary 2003 album Deja Entendu provided a sped-up and defiantly raw ‘Sic Transit Gloria…Glory Fades’ and ‘Okay I Believe You, But My Tommy Gun Don’t’, while ‘Gasoline’ was Daisy’s only representative. Songs that existed before that night in Portsmouth and were also played last week? None.
Ten years on from its release, Brand New focused this set squarely on The Devil And God Are Raging Inside Me. It just happens to be the greatest album of all time, so that was just fine by me. And it turns out that these brilliant songs, these vulnerable and intricate and unique compositions, have arena chops too.
Brand New have a natural understanding of the capabilities and flexibility of their own music. A second drummer here, a tweaked vocal there, and suddenly their back catalogue can fill every nook and cranny of the most cavernous venue. They didn’t just play their music. They made it work for the room. That is a band.
Jesse Lacey has been my favourite singer and lyricist since I was a teenager. When he played the previously unheard ‘Sowing Season (Yeah)’ with his hood up at the Brixton Academy prior to the release of Devil… he became my favourite frontman too. Last week he achieved the enigmatic greatness he was always destined to reach, thanks to an arena performance I’d put up against anyone.
And then, at 7.45pm, those horrible words. “This is going to be our last song.” What followed will be remembered by Brand New fans for years. Lacey and his on-stage cohorts concluded a wonderful show with a 15-minute version of ‘You Won’t Know’ – five minutes and 42 seconds, since you asked – complete with a vocal insert from ‘Tautou’.
It was emotional. It was incredible. It was the night I started hoping Brand New will someday pull an arena crowd of their own. They certainly know how to play one.
Biffy Clyro in Birmingham
I won’t lie; I had the slightest bit of trepidation about what Biffy might offer during my evening with them. Their latest album did very little for me and, looking around at the bulk of the crowd and the plethora of expensive merchandise, it’s clear just what a different band Biffy are in 2016.
They are an arena-filling, Radio 1 mainstream act – a million miles away from the band I first saw laying waste to the Academy in support of the album Puzzle.
However, I needn’t have worried. I should have known better really. Biffy have always been and still are an incredible live band, and this 27-song set only underlined their credentials. They have adjusted to their new, massive surroundings like ducks to water and look every inch the mega arena rock band.
Obviously, the setlist was heavy with material from Ellipsis, the aforementioned new album that has seemed to fall a bit flat with most fans. The ten songs from it aired in Birmingham sounded far, far better than they do on record, but they still pale in comparison to the band’s other material. And, interestingly, it was during the newer songs that more people seemed to take the opportunity for a visit to the loo and or bar.
But enough doing down the new stuff. Even taking all of those songs out the set that still left 17 absolute bangers. ‘Mountains’, ‘Many of Horror’ and ‘The Captain’ all still sound as massive as they always did, while ‘Folding Stars’ and ‘Bubbles’ also went down a treat, while hearing ‘Justboy’ so many years after its birth just reminded you of the ambition and scope that this band has had throughout their career.
The real highlights though, without doubt, were the gloriously heavy ‘That Golden Rule’ and the nigh-on perfect ‘Black Chandelier’, arguably the best song written by a band that has written many great numbers.
By the time the band finished with ‘Stingin’ Belle’, the whole room was eating out of the palm of their hands and there was more than a slight air of triumph about their performance.
The arena might not have been totally sold out, but if anyone was curious about whether or not Scotland’s finest band were worthy of the Download Festival headline slot they’ve been handed for next summer, they only needed to witness this show.
Biffy are natural headliners, they have the songs, the power and the charisma to emerge victorious at Castle Donington. If this is the future of arena rock, then I’m all in favour!