Whoever has been ‘renovating’ the Manchester Academy clearly has a sense of humour. Having been shut for months, the Academy now seems only different in these ways: bar in a more inconvenient place, slightly wider, and currently lacking all basic facilities. It’s not even finished but instead of moving the big gigs to the Apollo, the owners are just making the bands hang out in portacabins and making the punters piss in a portaloos. Great.
Give the fans a couple of drinks and (most of) the frustration melts away. Though I only catch the last few songs of The Matches set, I can see that they’re only getting better and better live. Last time I saw them I was blown away by their energy and confidence, and clearly this is something that Biffy has also seen when the picked the Oakland foursome to support them. As bassist James told me before the gig: “We met them on the Vans Warped Tour this summer and they just stood out a mile – really really great band, really interesting songs, and super nice guys. They’ve been going down really well, they seem to be getting a great reaction every night. They look like they own the place every single night!” Tonight, then, is not different as they tear up the stage with their perfect punk-edged pop and the crowd love them, so hopefully this massively underrated band are on the verge of getting the recognition they deserve.
Not quite so satisfying are main support ¡Forward Russia! One of those bands you always hear of but always manage not to actually hear, their grammatically-challenged new rave stylings don’t really do it for me on CD, but live it does even less for me. They come across like a more fashionable, more self-conscious version of At The Drive In, and though its refreshing to see a competent female drummer, I can’t help but think that the singer’s erratic showmanship was a little fakey and exaggerated.
Yet even a substandard support act can’t quell the excitement in the nearly-built Academy. This crowd is probably 70% hardcore fans who’ve seen the band 5 times or more, 30% people who’ve been turned onto them since the new, and admittedly more commercial-sounding, album came out, but everyone seems to know something special is in store and the band feed off this.
James confided, “there must be people out there who’re just discovering the band for the first time but that’s exciting for us. It’s a chance to go out and play to new people and not just do the same show every night to the same people who’ve been coming for 4 or 5 years. That was one of the great things about being in America this summer, that no one had a clue who we were, and people were like “Yeah, fuck you!” and it made it really refreshing cos there’s no expectation. We just go up there and do our thing.”
Clearly the band are determined to do their own thing tonight as unusually, they don’t begin with an epic album opener like Glitter and Trauma or Living is a Problem…, instead choosing to blindside the audience with the intimidating trio of Saturday Superhouse, Who’s Got a Match? and Justboy, knocked out in quick succession. From the first chords of Saturday…’, the faithful contingent at the front are overwhelmed with adoration, and the pit turns into something resembling a cramped evangelical service, with the fans speaking in the Biffy tongue and giving themselves over to the music completely and unequivocally. The less familiar amongst us clearly favour some songs over others, with Blackened Sky getting a huge reaction, while personal favourite (and somewhat obscure) tune the Kids From Kibble and the Fist of Light doesn’t carry the same weight. Perhaps the success of Puzzle has come at the price of watering down the intensity of their audiences a little, as the crowd don’t seem to be unanimously obsessive as they were a couple of years ago, or perhaps the more experimental songs are just lost on most people, as its easy to pick the most popular songs out of tonight’s set. It’s undeniably impressive, though, that a band with only three members manages to create such a huge and imposing sound whilst still being note perfect.
Despite this, the presentation of their set is flawless, and though the complex three-part harmonies tie each member to their respective mics, the light show captures and enhances the mood of each song perfectly. Though the band have chosen not to play the emotionally-charged, lighters-in-the-air classic Folding Stars any more, there are plenty of slower, more intense numbers such as All The Way Down and, notably, Machines, which a solitary Simon plays on an acoustic guitar to begin the encore. With a back catalogue as diverse as theirs, its inevitable that some people’s favourites might be missed out (my friend was particularly disappointed with the absence of Christopher’s River) but finishing with the ever-pleasing 57 provided a suitably climactic ending to yet another impeccable Biffy gig.
Though not everyone in the Academy tonight counts themselves among the Biffy fanatics (as I so obviously do), but I’ve no doubt that a few hundred more people were converted to the cause. Let the people say what they like – Biffy Clyro are still a force to be reckoned with.