With many of their US counterparts cancelling, postponing or cutting short their European tours in the wake of the atrocities in Paris earlier this month and the subsequent security concerns across much of Europe – just hours before the doors opened this evening, Brussels went into a state of lock down, with gigs in the city cancelled in the interests of public safety – Maryland favourites Clutch returned to these shores under a dark cloud but with a clearly stated determination that, where possible and unless extraneous circumstances dictated, the heavy metal party would, indeed, carry on…
By an ironic coincidence, openers The Mighty Stef‘s last gig before hooking up with Clutch in their native Dublin the previous evening had been at Le Bataclan almost a month previously. The quartet warm up the early comers with their blend of dark, Celtic-infused indie rhythms – something akin to a cross between The Horslips and Pulp with a heavy dose of Stiff Little Fingers thrown in for good measure – which is an entertaining enough, if somewhat brief, appetiser for what is to come.
Planet Of Zeus up the heaviness levels to Jupiterian levels (if you listen to our interview, you’ll understand that reference!). Their dark, throbbing psyche-fused rhythms and heavy-ass riffs, coupled with catchy hooks and chunky, solid grooves are delivered with tight precision and a raw underlying passion. Frontman Babis Papanikolaou (pictured right) commands the stage with the natural ease of someone completely at home in the live arena, constantly encouraging the growing crowd to dance and sway along to songs drawn largely from their most recent album, the superb ‘Vigilante’. The rhythm section of Giannis Vrazos and Serapheim Giannakopoulos is supremely tight, allowing the guitar melodies of Papanikolaou and Stelios Provis to interlock seemlessly, earning the band a deservedly ecstatic ovation – and, no doubt, many new fans (especially if the queues at the merch table shortly afterwards are anything to go by) – at the end of their equally merited longer set.
Over the course of the next 25 or minutes the level of anticipation builds as ominously as the heat from the now rammed venue (this gig, this several others on the tour, had sold out months in advance) before the lights dim and dark moving shapes signal the arrival of the headliners. “Well hello, let’s have a party!” proclaims Neil Fallon as the band launch into the thick but catchy groove of ‘X-Ray Visions’ at the start of a near 90-minute set which showcases seven of the 12 tracks from their current ‘Psychic Warfare’ opus. But, apart from these opening comments, it is hard to hear both what Fallon is saying (or singing) and what the band are playing, as the sound mix – which was superb for the support acts – suddenly is muddy and incoherent. This means that a set which starts off energetically enough but soon becomes stuck in a rut of repetitive riffs and indecipherable vocals.
Nevertheless, the faithful, in every corner of the room, are lapping up every sweat-soaked and muck-encased second of it. When they can be heard – and your faithful reviewer is perched in what should be one of the best positions in this regard, right behind the sound desk – the band are tight, and there is no doubt that Fallon (pictured right) is an exciting (indeed, excited, or even excitable) and provocative frontman. But, with the sound failing to improve as the set progresses, everything is lost behind a wall of brick solid anonymity, and Fallon’s efforts by and large fall on unhearing ears. However, as I said, the fans don’t seem to care, as they are lost in the groove and vibe of the noise emanating from the stage and washing over them.
Setlist: X-Ray Visions / Firebirds / Crucial Velocity / Burning Beard / The Soapmakers / Cypress Grove / A Quick Death In Texas / Sucker For The Witch / Our Lady Of Electric Light / Earth Rocker / Unto The Breach / The Mob Goes Wild / Profits Of Doom / Your Love Is Incarceration / Son Of Virginia
Encore: Space Grass / D.C. Sound Attack!
Clutch’s European tour continues tonight (Monday 23 November) at O2 Academy in Glasgow, and then as follows:
Tuesday 24 November – Nottingham, Rock City
Wednesday 25 November – Bristol, O2 Academy (SOLD OUT)
Friday 27 November – Paris, Le Trabendo (SOLD OUT)
Saturday 28 November – Cologne, Essigfabrik (SOLD OUT)
Sunday 29 November – Hamburg, Grosse Freiheit 36
Tuesday 1 December – Aarhus, VoxHall
Wednesday 2 December – Goteborg, Tradgarn (SOLD OUT)
Thursday 3 December – Stockholm, Debaser Medis (SOLD OUT)
Friday 4 December – Copenhagen, Store Vega
Saturday 5 December – Berlin, Astra
Sunday 6 December – Frankfurt, Batschkapp
Tuesday 8 December – Amsterdam, Paradiso
Thursday 10 December – Manchester, The Ritz (SOLD OUT)
Friday 11 December – Wolverhampton, Wulfrun Hall (SOLD OUT)
Saturday 12 December – London, Shepherds Bush Empire (SOLD OUT)
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- Photographs by Marc Leach. All content © PlanetMosh 2015.