Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on March 2010
The short route from Britain to America is via the Atlantic, but on their way to a thirty-gig stint pushing the Biffy brand in the States, the Scottish alt-rockers have decided to go the long way round, dropping in on Japan for a couple of shows. After playing Osaka the night before, they’re now in Tokyo for a packed house at Daikanyama Unit.
Given the obvious quality of latest album Only Revolutions, the perceptible whirr of the big gears of the music industry machine can be heard faintly in the background. Tokyo, it seems, is a vital warm-up before a relentless state-to-state assault on America.
Taking to the stage stripped to the waist and with a hint of builder’s cleavage on display, there’s a sense that the increasingly tattooed trio are here to put in their usual Stakhanovite shift. They set out their stall with “That Golden Rule” and “Living Is a Problem Because Everything Dies,” songs which lend themselves more to lean punk muscle than the harmonious and melodic side for which the band is also known. They seem to be trying to stoke up the mosh pit in front of the stage, unaware that their demographic tonight is a lot more female and dewy-eyed than normal.
By the third song, Biffy are already soaked in sweat. With only three members, it seems they need to work harder than most bands. Front man Simon Neil, who assumes vocal and guitar duties, seems to be going at it particularly hard. His taut neck muscles keep his mouth positioned on the microphone, while his writhing wiry frame and frantic arms send out the sharp guitar shapes, riffs and licks that ride the solid foundation of brothers James and Ben Johnston’s rumbling bass and powerhouse drums.
“Bubbles,” one of the standout tracks from the last album with its effervescent riff, constantly building dynamic and churning feedback, is a delight. Via the dark mood of “9/15ths,” the band then tackle the introspective “God & Satan,” Neil’s voice sounding bruised and soulful. “The Captain” revs up the energy level again, then the band snap into the skanky funk-rock of “Born on a Horse,” closely followed by the Arabesque thrash of “There’s No Such Thing as a Jaggy Snake.”
The overriding message of all this frenetic gear-changing seems to be: “Yes, we know you’ve got short attention spans and we’re not going to be predictable.” While this means Biffy are never dull, sometimes you just wish they’d fatten out a groove and keep it pointed in the same direction long enough to make it really count. But why bother when they have songs like “Many of Horror,” another key track from the album, which can do the same job with its first few bars? The song’s expansive, cranking-it-up feel is anchored by a melancholy Maroon 5-style soul undertow, making it a particularly affecting piece on which Neil can stretch his voice from a whisper to a scream.
As if admitting this is the climax of the show, the next few songs delve into the band’s back catalogue, encore-style, showcasing their angst-driven thrash/grunge side with heart-on-the-sleeve lyrics that has occasionally thrown up comparisons to Nirvana–possibly a useful resource on the US tour.
When the encore does come, we get the fragile, acoustic “Machines,” followed by early power-pop standard “57” and skittery new anthem “Mountains.” After seventy minutes, several pints of sweat, two bandaged fingers, and a few shredded guitars, the show is over.