Clutch - Concert Review

Let’s get through the early part of this in a hurry.

I arrived at the Chance fashionably late and missed Red Fang. So it goes. From what I can tell with my minimal research, they actually might not be half bad. I’ll have to keep an eye on them.

However, the first band I did see was Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. “Big” seems to refer to the waistline of the assorted members, as opposed to the actual number of members. It’s a three piece band, with one guy on guitar/vocals, a woman who plays the washboard (and sets it on fire,) and a drummer (one piece of his kit is an upside down sheetrock bucket.) In so many words, this is “O Brother, Where Art Thou: Live!” but without the sense of accomplishment or dignity. Next.

Next up was the Bakerton Group, or as I more commonly refer to them, “Not-Clutch.” Sure, it’s the same guys. But it’s not the same style. Thirty minutes of jam rock later, we all moved on. My friend who enjoys The Bakerton Group said they were “okay, but they sound better on the record.”

Coming into the evening, I had seen Clutch five previous times. The first time I saw them, in 2002, was the tail end of the “Pure Rock Fury,” tour, and the band approached their music with a ferocity and energy that was hard to find in many other bands. The second time I saw them was on the “Blast Tyrant” tour, and was arguably the best show I’ve ever seen. They played a double set, culminating in over two and a half hours of Clutch songs. Every thing you could imagine. Great show, great crowd. The kind of show that sticks with you for a long time.

After that, “Robot Hive: Exodus” was released, and the tours just haven’t been the same since. Granted, I do like that album, but for some reason, the band went a little backward during the tours, and started mixing in more of the “Jam Room,” or “Slow Hole to China” mentality. The last two shows I had seen were marginally disappointing, to say the least. Not a single track off “Pure Rock Fury” was played. Hippies everywhere. I’ve chronicled on these pages my displeasure at the catering to that audience segment by Clutch. So, after the last two shows, Clutch had two strikes against them. I had vowed that if this tour ended up the same, I would not see them again until someone told me they had been redeemed.

(Yes, I understand that Clutch has a right to play whatever they want. And I know that the “Beale Street” album was a comparative commercial success, even though it alienated some of the metal fans. But if this band had gotten the press they deserved way back at the start, maybe none of this happens.)

So, armed with hope in one hand and cynicism in the other, I waited. My thinking was that if the band had gotten the jamming out of their system during The Bakerton Group, then we might be in for a pretty fine outing. Also, the erstwhile keyboard player was not among the band members on stage, so that was a positive sign.

Low and behold, the first song out of the gate was “Pure Rock Fury.” Automatically, this made the show better than the previous two. Following that was “Mice and Gods,” and then straight into “Escape From the Prison Planet.” The rest of the playlist (in no order,) was somewhat “Beale Street”-centric, but there were a number of other songs mixed in. “Profits of Doom,” was an unexpected (though perhaps time appropriate,) surprise, “Elephant Riders,” I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth,” “One Eye Dollar,” and “Electric Worry.” Also, a threesome of “You Can’t Stop Progress,” into “Power Player,” into “The Devil and Me.” The radio single “Burning Beard,” followed, with the crowd favorite “Spacegrass,” and also “The Soapmakers,” which I don’t think I’ve ever seen them NOT play.

There were also two new songs mixed in, which I should’ve figured, given the knowledge that the band expects to be recording in another week or so. I was pleasantly surprised at the encore of “Gravel Road,” their cover of a Mississippi Fred McDowell song, but it was a solid way to end the show. Every now and again the band would jam a little, but it was always reeled in relatively quickly.

But was it good? If you have it handy, look at the back cover of the self-titled album. See that poster in the back right that says “Clutch: the American Psycho Band?” They’re not that band anymore. The gradual relaxification (made that word up,) of the band is disappointing to me, as Neil Fallon used to exude energy and impart it to the crowd. The sound was a little thin. It wasn’t that long ago that a Clutch show was guaranteed to be one of the biggest mosh pits I saw in a given year. No longer. That was something I walked away with last night; sure, I had enjoyed the show, but no part of it was particularly memorable. Rather, it’s just as easy for me to think back to seeing “Pure Rock Fury,” in 2002, with the crowd going ballistic. Looking at the patrons around me, movement was kept to an unhealthy minimum. Worse yet, during the two new songs, the crowd seemed almost docile.

Walking out, I did enjoy the show. I can say that with confidence. I was not however, blown away. Maybe it was because it’s toward the end of the tour and the band is exhausted. Maybe it’s because I’ve set the bar too high for them after that seminal show in 2004. The people I went with seemed to really enjoy it. It was a good but far from spectacular show. No “Mob Goes Wild.” No “Texan Book of the Dead.” No “Impetus.” No “Ship of Gold.” Not even a “10001110101.” Good but not great.

I said at the top that Clutch had two strikes them against them. This was not strike three. They fouled it off and kept the at-bat alive. But if the new album (whenever it hits,) is a dud, they might go down swinging. At that point, my hand might be forced into starting a Clutch cover band.

All of the band’s tremendous talent is still intact, but the fire seems to be dimming. Let’s hope the condition is temporary.

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