Live Review: Clutch

The latest Clutch album may be the band’s best since 2005’s Robot Hive/Exodus, but the live setting is where these Marylanders have built their name over the years. So it was fitting that the quartet opened up its recent set in Port Chester, NY with “Earth Rocker”, a tune that in many ways sets forth the group’s mantra that if you’re gonna do it you’d better take it to the stage, or don’t do it at all.

Easy ledes aside, the group has always been confident in its new material, peppering and sometimes dousing its mid- to late-aughts sets in the boogified blues that pervaded 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion and 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West. So it wasn’t surprising to hear over half of Earth Rocker during the course of the group’s 80+ minute set, though just how well those new songs fit in with the band’s older material was a pleasant revelation. That may be due to the fact that I haven’t seen the band in over six years, a figure that expands to eight if we’re only talking headlining shows (and if you’re a band like Clutch opening for Coheed and Cambria, we probably should be).

In some ways, I guess you could say I’ve been chasing the Clutch dragon since late 2000. I’d still rank the band’s co-headlining show with Corrosion of Conformity that year in Philadelphia as one of the most unhinged and spellbinding shows I’ve ever seen. Sure, I’ve come to idealize the gig and yes, I’m imposing impossible standards here, but the band’s live shows during the Mick Schauer (who handled organs from 2005-2008) period never managed to fully recapture that magic for me. So I’m happy to report that I had a shit-eating grin on my face for pretty much the entire set, one which got the widest during “Texan Book of the Dead” and a jammed out version (courtesy of guitarist Tim Sult) of “The Soapmakers”. Plus, new tune “Cyborg Bette” is destined to be another of the group’s many live staples, an already catchy tune that gets a boost live from the groove laid down by bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster.

It wasn’t anywhere close to a packed house at the magnificent Capitol Theater–the show was a makeup from the fall when Fallon had to get surgery–but the sound was massive and the crowd, in the middle of which was at least a small pit for every song save “The Regulator”, engaged. After a second beer was thrown on stage early in the set, frontman Neil Fallon handled the situation like the veteran of the trade he is, telling the audience that anyone who wanted to buy him a drink was more than welcome to buy him all the drinks they wanted at the bar after the show. No one threw anything on stage after that.

The Sword provided immediate support, just as the quartet did for a bevy of Clutch shows last year. I’d planned to say that I’d now seen the Austinites at the beginning (2004) and end of their popularity bell curve, but the group was treated to an impressive groundswell of support in Westchester. I’m not sure much has changed in their live show over the past nine-plus years other than some spacey bass effects during “Freya”, which, to the band’s credit, wasn’t saved for last. While that’s not an indictment of the quartet by any means (god forbid I start another Sword-related shitstorm around here), I didn’t think the band offered much in the way of stage presence. For me, that was at the very least jarring (particularly given who they’ve opened for over the years) and, at the very worst, reminiscent of watching Megadeth (though at least I was spared the stage banter). Granted, you could say the same about three-quarters of Clutch at times, but that last quarter–in the form of Fallon–more than compensates. Then again, I wasn’t on the floor changing “Sword” in between songs, so maybe it just bothered me and my crotchety balcony brethren.

You can still catch the tour on the following dates:

1/16/2014 Jefferson Theatre Charlottesville, VA
1/18/2014 V Club Huntington, WV
1/19/2014 The Machine Shop Flint, MI

If you missed our Clutch cover story back in April, check it out here. Gaster is also featured in fellow scribe Adem Tepedelen’s wonderful book, The Brewtal Truth Guide to Extreme Beers.