First up supporting Clutch are Brighton’s own Tigercub, sounding like an early grungy Mastodon. However, some of the vocals are in danger of sinking under the sludge of tar-thick riffs. Said riffs are augmented with surprisingly fleet-fingered surreal nightmarish solos, and the necks of the front few rows begin to thaw from the December cold outside.
Green Lung are up next, dealing in strident Middle-Earth prog metal. Such is their confidence, musicianship and reception, they come extremely close to looking and sounding like co-headliners rather than a warmup act and leave the stage with a more than a few hearts and minds won.
Clutch emerge to a hero’s welcome, can also lay claim to one of the most appropriate band names in rock history: an essential part of a greater machine that serves one singular purpose with no frills or fancies. While this makes the band’s evolution over time rather more subtle, their universally-loved status as one of rock’s most hardworking and reliable bands ensures nobody is really going to accuse them of making the same albums over and over again (and even if someone did think that, it’d likely be with the shrugged admission that the quality is far too high to make this an issue).
Frontman Neil Fallon is in fine form throughout, delivering all the grit, power and soul straight from the records. Like all great live bands, they actually make the albums sound slightly stilted in comparison. It’s another testament to the no-nonsense stripped-down nature of Clutch’s music – nothing is lost when bringing new songs to the live context.
Tim Sult and Dan Maines, on guitar and bass respectively, flank drummer Jean-Paul Gastier further back on the stage, presumably to keep out of Fallon’s way as he strides about, gesticulating, and singing his balls off. The stringsmen would seemingly be unmoved by a meteor strike, concentrating solely on delivering tasty guitar work and filthy driving bass. Fallon also provides more than enough stage presence and charisma for the rest of the band: the refreshingly straightforward nature of Clutch extends to the live show having a backdrop, some lights, and that’s it – everything’s propelled by the sheer quality and energy of the music.
Yet another admirable thing is the pool of material the band choose from: cursory setlist research shows an impressive mix of material, with sets barely resembling the previous show or even belying any real structure. Tonight is no different, and boasts the first airing of The Devil & Me after around a decade out.
Most of the tracks from the excellent new gloriously fat-free long-player Sunrise on Slaughter Beach slot in alongside the older material, with Red Alert (Boss Metal Zone) and Nosferatu Madre opening the set and the mob going wild for oldie The Mob Goes Wild. It illustrates how Clutch have stuck to their it-ain’t-broke formula, seemingly forever. While dullards could point to a perhaps smaller sonic palette (this one is a bit faster, that one’s a bit heavier, this one has female backing vocals, etc), this would only be an issue if the songs and shows weren’t good enough.
But they always have been, and they still are. Going by Clutch’s set-your-watch regularity and dependability, they always will be.
Review and Photographs: James Stokes