POSTED ON APRIL 6, 2011:
Scottish sensation Biffy Clyro sets its sights on the United States
As soon as this weekend's Cage the Elephant show at Cain's Ballroom was announced, a buzz broke out.
Riding high on the success of its self-titled debut and the January release of Thank You, Happy Birthday, the Kentucky quintet is one of the hottest rising stars on the road right now. Opening act Sleeper Agent, which hails from Washington, D.C., is also grabbing attention, recently being tabbed as a "Best Discovery" at SXSW by Spin magazine's Peter Gaston.
For those in the know, however, the real wild card of the night is Scottish rock act Biffy Clyro. Although most of America has never heard of the band, Biffy Clyro is no newcomer to the music scene. The group has been quietly building its reputation as one of the best bands in the U.K. and is finally making its move to crack the U.S. market.
The band formed in 1995 when childhood friends Simon Neil (guitar, lead vocals) and twin brothers James (bass, vocals) and Ben Johnston (drums, vocals) started playing music together.
For the first 10 years together, the band developed its sound: a simmering mix of melodic-pop and searing rock with off-tempo time changes and unpredictable instrumentation that draws as much from underground, experimental rock and post-hardcore bands as arena-rock and modern pop.
The band's 2007 release, Puzzle (its fourth overall, but first with major label distribution), was the band's first step to a much broader audience and garnered platinum sales status in the U.K. The release quickly won over critics as vocalist and lyricist Simon Neil addressed the recent passing of his mother and his struggles with mortality, but Puzzle never caught on in the US.
Biffy Clyro's follow-up, Only Revolutions, virtually exploded in the U.K. upon its November 2009 release, which pushed the band to the forefront of that music scene with sales closing in on double-platinum status, three No. 1 singles and nominations as "Best British Group" in the 2011 Brit Awards, as well the 2010 Mercury Prize for best U.K. album.
Along the way, Biffy Clyro has become one of the biggest bands in the U.K., landing main stage billing at major music festivals, selling out three tours and even headlining Wembley Arena. Still, the band hasn't caught on in the U.S., but that's about to change.
I just caught on to the band this past January when it repeatedly appeared on various year-end "best of" lists, spurring me to look up the band and download its latest disc, Only Revolutions. It only took a pair of listens before I was completely drawn in.
Sonically, it's easiest to draw comparisons to Muse, as the band is a trio with an expansive sound. Biffy Clyro's Only Revolutions grabbed me immediately; much like Muse's Black Holes and Revelations did when I first heard it. The comparison is a bit shortsighted, however. Sure, there are similar dynamic characteristics, but Biffy Clyro also draws heavily from Queen and jumps out into more urgent and rocky waters while still retaining its melodic qualities, much like Foo Fighters. It's an intriguing, if hard to describe blend, to be sure, but it's also incredibly engaging and hard to resist.
For the first 10 years together, Biffy Clyro developed its sound: a simmering mix of melodic-pop and searing rock with off-tempo time changes and unpredictable instrumentation that draws as much from underground, experimental rock and post-hardcore bands as arena-rock and modern pop.
The inclusion of Biffy Clyro on Sunday's Cage the Elephant bill, then, made this an undeniable bill as the band makes its first true jaunt through the heartland of Middle America.
"It's exciting, because America feels a bit like a new frontier and territory for us," Ben Johnston said.
Johnston said the band shares some of the responsibility for its relatively unknown status in the U.S.
"We spent a lot of time in the U.K., developing the band and building our audience there," he said. "It feels like a long time coming, but now we're ready for more."
Most recently, Biffy Clyro won the NME (popular U.K. music magazine New Music Express) Award for Best Live Band, beating out acts like Muse, Kasabian, Foals and Arcade Fire, shedding light on just how powerful its performances are. The award has built even more anticipation for the coming tour.
After headlining arenas in the U.K, the current U.S. tour returns the band to clubs and smaller venues like Tulsa's Cain's Ballroom. When addressing the shift and how it effects the group's presentation, Johnston didn't express any concern.
"It's similar to how we started off in the U.K.," he said. "We're still the same band. It really comes down to the energy and passion you bring to the show and how you communicated with the audience. Sometimes that's actually easier in the smaller venues.
"We're not at a loss of anything," he continued. "It's not a problem playing smaller shows. We're not worried about not having a big production. It's really about the songs and putting on a good show."
So far, Biffy Clyro's reception in the U.S. has been overwhelmingly positive, allowing the band to mount its own short headlining club tour in major markets like Austin, Texas, Chicago, Toronto and Southern California. This month's tour with Cage the Elephant is the band's second with opening for the act, exposing the group to a new audience across Middle America and the Southwest.
This is merely another stepping stone for the band, however, as we'll see Biffy Clyro return to Tulsa in May as an opener on a five day run through the heartland with Foo Fighters.
"We've really had some great opportunities," Johnston said. "We're really enjoying the States. Foreigners have been very friendly and we've had some great shows so far, so we're really looking forward to it."
This Sunday night's concert at Cain's Ballroom should be one of the best of the month. Not only does Tulsa get a chance to catch a pair of current buzz bands with Cage the Elephant and newcomer Sleeper Agent, it's also our first glimpse at Biffy Clyro, a band that should explode in the U.S. over the next year.
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