Cafe Campus is a bare-bones venue that houses 600 people. There are no intricate shapes or designs decorating the walls; in fact, the ceiling is open, showing wires and beams. They have a simple selection of spirits. What they lack in ornateness, however, they make up for in full with their sound quality.
O’Brother hit the stage at eight, and proceeded to warm up the crowd in the only way they knew how: with sludgy riffs and power-packed vocal melodies. The best way to describe this band live is that they sound like you’re stepping into a sinking, muddy marshland while wearing a pair of low-cut converse sneakers.
It’s always in these types of shows that the rhythm section gets a chance to shine. Bassist Anton Dang whipped his hair around during the more feverish moments of their set, but it was the laid back, reclusive bowing he did that impressed the hell out of me. He showed mastery over every possible movement on his instrument.
Singer and guitarist, Tanner Merritt, was on point the whole night. He swayed, he crooned, he rocked out, he falsettoed his way into, and out of, some sticky situations. He was Matt Bellamy reincarnated to front an ambient, quicksand-induced, five-piece powerhouse. There were times when I couldn’t tell where Merritt’s voice ended and the resonant feedback began. Their entire act resulted in the crowd slowly head-bobbing along to them. It was a slow warm-up, but by the end of their set, we were all jazzed. That’s the mark of a great opener.
Have you ever wanted to see your favourite stadium rock band in a tiny venue? For all the Scottish ex-pats at the show, this was their night. For the rest of us, we were about to get an experience unlike any other. After headlining the closing night of the Reading Festival in 2016, Biffy Clyro decided to take their sound across the ocean, again. This time, they happened to bring along their sound and light techs, as well as their second guitar player and keyboardist. They did this in hopes of capturing a stellar stadium performance in a smaller venue. Holy shit, it paid off!
Kicking off the set with “Wolves of Winter,” they captured and captivated the imagination of the crowd. The soft, anthem-driven opening, followed by the quick grab of a funky, heavy groove, slew all who were there. Singer, Simon Neil, catapulted his range between the sacred and the profane. It was something of “Biblical” proportions. My showmanship award, however, goes to James “Jimbo” Johnston. He rattled off resonating bass lines and various vocal duties with precision. Between all this, he was an energy ball. There was not an inch of the stage untouched by him.
To fanboy-out, just a little, I almost crapped my pants when they played “In the Name of the Wee Man,” and followed it up with “Who’s Got A Match?” Those are my two favourites, but the latter takes my cake. From the succinct bass opening to the dual guitar work of Neil and Mike Vennart during the verse, it was to die for. It was frantic, it was fantastic, it was eighth in a set of twenty-one. It served as the last wake-up call to anyone who still needed one.
Behind all the chaotic madness the trio brought, the whole experience was reinforced by their visual sound track. Operated by Richard Larkum, the spectators and performers alike were awash in a visceral experience. My personal favourite was the purple tentacle light swirls during “Re-Arrange.”
Now, however, I’m going to end this review with a plea. To any and all of my fellow North American humans: Are you tired of that one friend who said they were “big into ‘The Black Keys’ before they were cool, like, around Rubber Factory?” Well, now, you can be that friend. Go. Support Biffy Clyro and then, tell your friends all about it.
I await your experiences in the comments below.
Written by Aaron Deck
Photography by Danny Donovan
*edited by Kate Erickson