GIG REVIEW: CLUTCH, GREEN LUNG and TIGER CLUB Live at The Roundhouse, London
If there was a city that needed some cheering up tonight, it is London. It’s cold here, and it has been for several days. We’ve had snow, the temperature is sitting below zero and the pavements are frozen. Traveling any distance on foot has become a treacherous task – “Take it slowly,” I tell myself as I get closer to Camden’s Roundhouse, having walked the five-mile distance from my home to get there. I’m walking because the city is also feeling the effects of a national rail strike. Trains have been canceled due to ongoing industrial action and anyone traveling into the city from afar will have had to re-plan their route – For many, the journey simply hasn’t been possible and tickets for tonight’s show have been changing hands on message boards, often with the reason for sale being given as, “we just can’t get there,” or, more frustratingly, “we could get there, but don’t want to risk getting stranded.” It’s heartbreaking to acknowledge those missing out tonight because a Clutch show is undoubtedly a hot ticket and the perfect antidote to the potential misery caused by the shitty circumstances of the day.
On arrival, the good news is that clearly, enough people have taken advantage of the ticket exchanges to keep the venue full. There is a steady flow of people pouring into the Roundhouse’s unique, circular, central arena and it’s safe to assume most folks are just as relieved to be taking shelter from the cold as they are looking forward to a night of distraction from the UK‘s current affairs. Friends are spotted in the crowd and drinks are bought. Shout out to the bar staff who not only gave a very sincere compliment about my girlfriend’s hair but also told us where to get the better beer! “We only sell Guinness in cans up here, but downstairs you’ll get it on draft!” – Thank you! Additional note: If you want a half-decent choice of IPA, the downstairs bar is the place to go. A useful nugget of knowledge that sets us up well for the first band of the evening.
Brighton’s Tiger Club appear from the wings and look pleased with the volume that greets them as they take their places and adjust their instruments. It’s interesting to note that drummer – James Allix – has set his kit up front and center, positioning himself squarely between his bandmates. The band is presenting as a united front – a power trio with some heavy emphasis on the word, “power.”
To prove the point, the band kick things off with the solid, but cheekily named, Favorite Song. It’s a stoner-rock jam that does a fine job of drawing the crowd’s favor. It’s clear Tiger Club understands that a Clutch crowd is a loyal crowd, and their first offering acts as an anchor of familiarity from which they can branch out. Sleepwalker and Blue Mist in My Head prove that “branching out” is very much part of this band’s motivating force. As their musical palette expands, the band reveal themselves to be one who would take just as much influence from the flamboyant glam-rock of T-Rex and David Bowie as they might do from the scuzzier riffs of any Californian desert punk. A mid-set performance of Memory Boy is a good example of the latter, with its sleazy verses bringing Queens of the Stone Age to mind. Whereas the band’s current single, The Perfume of Decay, and the epic, Stop Beating on my Heart (Like a Bass Drum) both demonstrate the sort of pomp and bravado that has a few of us nodding in agreement when someone in our party suggests the band sounds a lot like Muse.
Onstage, toasting the tour with a gulp from his beer bottle, Jamie Stephen Hall acknowledges his drink as one of many consumed over the past few weeks. Tonight’s show marks the final night of the tour and Hall confesses the band are “pickled,” but the twinkle in his eye suggests it’s been a fun ride. There are further clues to the sense of camaraderie and friendship that appears to have been forged along the five-week road trip – Bassist, Jimi Wheelwright is adorned in a Green Lung t-shirt, and Hall makes a point to extend a very sincere thank you to the headlining band before Tiger Club sign off, to appreciative cheers, with the banging, Homme-Esque track – Beauty.
It’s an impressive start to what has been a much-needed foray into some wild, weekend behavior. The atmosphere inside the Roundhouse is charged with excited anticipation and undoubtedly, a good portion of this is reserved for those looking forward to the second set of the evening. After all, tonight is a homecoming gig for London’s occultist, prodigal sons – Green Lung.
To suggest Green Lung’s ascent – from their humble beginnings on London’s doom scene, to becoming one of Nuclear Blast’s most recent signings – has been a rapid one, is a significant understatement. While I wait for the crew to make all the necessary changeovers, I think back to the first time I saw the Lung play; just a few years ago in the basement of a Hackney cocktail bar performing to a crowd that barely scraped into double figures. Indeed, it’s a testament to Green Lung’s vision and commitment, to the impact they made with 2019’s Woodland Rites album and the subsequent wave of momentum, that we can cheer for their ongoing success. In the time since that basement show, London has watched Green Lung’s career grow into a series of increasing successes without (it seems) a single misstep. Would it be too much of a stretch (given the band’s association with the dark arts) to playfully assume there might have been some nefarious forces at work here? To emphasize this suggestion, the sinister frivolity of a jig from the Wicker Man soundtrack begins to play over the sound system, and Green Lung make their entrance to a cheer that would be worthy of Satan himself.
Using Woodland Rites as the track to launch into their set, the connection with the London crowd is instant. The track’s Sabbathy lurch is enough for many to throw themselves into an appreciative headbang without a thought for the inevitable Sunday neckache. Many more are singing along by the first chorus, and fully onboard as the majestic chords of John Wright’s organ bring, Leaders of the Blind into focus before the rest of the band bring it crashing down onto London’s collective ears.
Green Lung have always been an accomplished and confident live act, but right from the start of tonight’s set, it is clear how comfortably they are growing into the role of world-class performers. Up front, Tom Templar’s voice soars over the music, sounding both haunting and bold. The appeal of his melodies is rooted in his ability to sound like Ozzy if he had somehow possessed the range and projection of Ronnie James Dio. Whatever era of Black Sabbath appeals to you, Green Lung have pulled all of them together to create something undeniably potent.
With a couple of tracks under their belt, Templar introduces the band with some melodramatic flair. His bandmates emphasize each of his statements with powerful, stabbing, musical accents – The effect leaves me thinking the frontman may have taken a few extra notes from Neil Fallon during this tour – he adopts a similar command of the moment, pushing the set forward and drawing in the devotion of the London crowd who dutifully throw themselves into the raging gallop of Reaper’s Scythe – cheering again as the track reaches the dexterous solo of the band’s highly skilled axemen, Scott Black.
In Black, Green Lung have a real guitar hero in their ranks. Standing stage left, Black’s casual demeanor is at odds with the virtuoso chops he uses to elevate each of tonight’s tracks into a stadium-sized banger. The Ritual Tree, Graveyard Sun, and Old Gods, all benefit from his golden touch and provide a touchpoint to an era of rock and roll where the guitar solo was delivered with melodically appealing, bluesy gusto. Think Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, Ritchie Blackmoore, and Brian May. Scott Black really is standing on the shoulders of giants as he peels out his impressive flourishes.
Air-guitaring their approval, the crowd’s response to each song is also a testament to the strength and breadth of the band’s material. Across two albums and their earlier, self-released EPs, Green Lung possess enough variety and depth in their music to make this supporting set flow like a headline performance. A final, rousing rendition of Let the Devil In confirms it, and as they leave the stage I feel like Green Lung’s trajectory is still accelerating upwards. I wish them all the success they clearly have coming their way.
With this being the final night of the tour, the production is undoubtedly running like a well-oiled machine – Underneath a huge banner bearing Clutch’s name, the crew are working with efficiency to get things prepared for the last performance, and as the clock counts down to showtime, people contemplate whether a trip to either the bar or the bathroom will lose them their spot in the densely packed crowd. Among our group, we opt for a mixture of all things, with one of our numbers looking after the bags. By the time we reconvene, the lights are down and the funky sound of Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers singing We Need Some Money (Bout Money) is booming over the speakers. This is Clutch’s cue to take the stage – and with the track setting the levels of sass to an appropriate level and no doubt reminding the band of the “work” ahead, Clutch wave out their greetings and count in for the slamming new track, Slaughter Beach.
It’s an assured start, and I think how refreshing it is – especially for a band on the grind of a month-long tour – that Clutch re-order and mix their setlist up night after night. For any given performance on the tour, the track list is a guessing game that adds anticipation between each track. “I hope they play, Earth Rocker tonight” I think to myself, just moments before they launch into the very song and put a big smile on my face.
It’s an early highlight for me, but Clutch are a band full of highlights with everyone seeming to have that one track that makes them jump a little higher or turn toward their friends with a beam of appreciation. The crucial point here is, Clutch are a band you can trust. They deliver. They approach their performance with full commitment, and the crowd is completely, willingly in their hands as they alternate and impress, taking us on a journey back and forth – from the party bounce of Worm Drink to the psychedelics of this year’s, Mountain of Bone. Both tracks demonstrate the band’s ability to perfectly curate the soundtrack to a good time. Need more cowbell? Fallon’s got you covered as he clangs out the percussive drive on DC Sound Attack – joining John-Paul Gaster in an almighty groove. It’s glorious.
Often providing the extra nuances in the set, Fallon takes on additional guitar duties when they are required – helping to drive the boogie of A Quick Death in Texas – or turning his hand (literally) to the theremin parts on another new track, Skeletons on Mars.
An additional treat tonight is having the band expand their lineup to a five-piece. Halfway through the set, during one of the band’s deeper cuts, (Sea of Destruction) the band are joined by Per Wiberg, the Swedish keyboard maestro who has worked with both Opeth and Spiritual Beggars. Wiberg remains for the duration, adding some swirling atmosphere to new tracks like Nosferatu Madre, alongside solid gold classics such as The Regulator. His presence adds to the jovial atmosphere on stage for what Fallon reveals to be the 120th (and final) show of the year. As if to acknowledge this further, the singer apologizes for a rasp in his voice. This a symptom of the effort he has put in for the duration of the tour but also one that is largely hidden by his dedication to the level of rock and roll that Clutch have dished out this evening.
By this point, the musicians on stage have taken all of us on a comprehensive retrospective of their career – visiting nine albums and absolutely reaffirming themselves as a band that has reassuringly excellent quality control. They are not done yet though, and it’s left to Neil Fallon to bark out the familiar request for a moment (to adjust his pants) that leads Sult, Maines, and Gaster into a final, rowdy rendition of The Mob Goes Wild.
A 17-song set has passed in a flash, but after a short break, and as a final goodbye to London, it appears there are still more treats to come. For many in the room tonight, Clutch’s 1995 self-titled release is the one that contains some of the most valuable treasure. It holds lesser-heard tracks that are steeped in nostalgia. We’ve already had a taste of this album tonight via a performance of the almost thirty-year-old track, I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth, but when the creeping, almost spoken opening verse to Spacegrass comes drifting from the stage, there is a sense of the crowd getting exactly what they here came for. The song climaxes to a cheer of immense satisfaction that turns everything that follows into a celebration. 10001110101 and (of course) Electric Worry are met with rapture. A set that started on a high, ends on an even higher high, and concludes a superb evening of excellent music.
Clutch bid us farewell with a wave and a smile, thanking us, as well as the other performers who have joined them on tour.
When the lights come up, the usual practice is to head off into the night and find the bus home – But not so tonight. There’s a sense of jubilation in the air that sends us all off to the pub to keep the party going. Even the forgotten cold that greets us as we leave can’t dull the elevated mood. It’s undeniable. There’s nothing like good music to lift spirits.