Out and About in London: 06/02/2012: Gilby Clarke @ The Underworld, Camden

Gilby Clarke

Gilby Clarke today

My route to university on the days I don’t have a Travelcard takes me past the Undeworld, what I take to be quite a famous metal venue/nightclub with pop and indie nights (seriously.). Generally, I hardly spare it a glance, expecting the windows to be full of bands with names and posters that I can only hope are tongue-in-cheek. And, when I saw the poster of a dark-haired man with an angry face making the horns at the camera, I thought it was just another metal band. Then I saw the name – Gilby Clarke.

When Izzy Stradlin left Guns N’ Roses in 1991, Gilby Clarke replaced him on tour for three years. That’s about the extent of my familiarity with him – he makes frequent appearances in Slash’s autobiography around that period. Nonetheless, this was an opportunity to tick another Guns member off the list – two and counting. I think I might have listened to one or two songs of his before buying the tickets. I bought them well in advance however, and had time to Spotify his debut album Pawn Shop Guitars quite extensively, and thought it was a very solid album. Not only was it going to be a good night in terms of being within one degree of separation of Slash and Axl, but, it turned out, it was going to be a good gig anyway.

I’d never been to the Underworld as a music venue, only as a nightclub. However, it’s a great venue for rock – all black, in the basement, in a sort of pit, the stage not too high up. It certainly feels very intimate. Drinks were, as ever, a fortune. However, as they gave me a re-entry stamp, I was able to nip to Sainsbury’s, and then nip home to pick up my phone, only missing five minutes of one of the support acts. Just one of the many delights of living in Camden.

There were three support acts. The first one don’t appear on the website and I didn’t catch their name, but were quite standard pub-rock types. Quite enjoyable music, but little in the way of variation. And the singer was dressed as a pirate.

Next up, Guns 2 Roses, the band I missed a bit of – unfortunately, as they were fantastic. I’m always sceptical of Guns N’ Roses covers, as I feel Axl has one of those inimitable voices, and, sure enough, the singer wasn’t quite there at all times. Nonetheless, the band were really good, the singer had real energy (he had the Axl dances down pat) and this was when the room really started to come into its own. There was a really good atmosphere and lots of energy – I finally understand the point of tribute acts.  Only slight sticking point was the dancers during Paradise City, their closing song. Out of nowhere, they brought up a young blonde woman in little more than fishnets and underwear to dance sexily on stage. It was probably in character, not that the Guns attitude to women was anything to live by, but it just seemed quite cheap. Not that I mind cheap blondes (ahem) but even without putting on my feminist hat, it sat poorly with me.

Touring with Gilby are Swedish band Badmouth, who, to be honest, I thought were the weakest act of the night. Hard rock is a genre that invites cliché, and while usually I don’t mind, I found it grated here, perhaps because of the lack of anything particularly interesting about the band itself, the lead singer’s glorious hair aside. They also kept doing the “everybody clap” thing, which needs to die. It’s just an awkward idea, which will inevitably end up in out-of-time noise, with everyone unsure how long to keep clapping. It also demoralises the musician, I find – when you don’t get a response from the audience, it’s a downer, and it’s not pleasant to inflict that on a band.

Finally, at about ten, out swaggered Gilby. I hadn’t seen him for twenty years, so didn’t quite recognise him at first. The set-up was pretty amateurish, which I didn’t mind – having Gilby come out and fiddle with amplifiers and pedals for five minutes in plain sight was quite endearing. The broken snare drum later on was handled with similar professionalism, which one of the boring people behind me complained about, but again, quite endearing.

The music was fantastic – very tight playing. Gilby was the rhythm guitarist with Guns, but he has a really distinctive lead style, even on Guns covers, with plenty of attack. I can’t really comment too much on the setlist as I only knew his debut album, but it wasn’t monotonous like the first band, and had all my favourite songs on it, so I was pleased.

If only he had played to an empty room. I think the intimacy of club gigs when compared to stadiums and the like is a double-edged sword in some ways. You can’t heckle in a crowd of a hundred thousand.  The idiots who make requests for songs are far more obnoxious when they’re not diluted. And then there’s the unavoidables. Obnoxious people directly surrounding you. Mosh pits. The cameraphones. Moshpits. I seriously can’t describe how much I despise mosh pits. I missed a good portion of Tijuana Jail because I was busy not getting hit in the face, and then I lost my place near the front for the encore.

In conclusion, though, it was a great night. Now to seek out Velvet Revolver – three Guns with one stone!