Thank the lawd it’s not snowing. Having had numerous wintertime gigs nobbled by the road-wrecking sky-dandruff several times before, I gladly get work out of the way and finally zip off to see one of rock’s best kept secrets: Clutch.
The Maryland no-nonsense outfit are one of the select few bands working tirelessly for the slowest, most grinding rise and growth possible, earning new converts in the most honourable way — by touring all corners of the known universe and, y’know, putting out bloody awesome music.
After Inspector Clueso and The Picture Books supply zany falsetto’d fuzz-riff-jazz and happy-to-be-here scuzz rock, Clutch arrive to bring a lengthy tour to its conclusion, kicking off with Weird Times — one of several cuts from the new Book of Bad Decisions album.
What follows is to be expected of a band of their 27 years: an impressive mix of choice pickings from a rich, maturing back catalogue that ages finely but has to share elbow room with the more modern material — X-Ray Visions finishes the encore later, Firebirds incites the first great singalong of the night and In Walks Barbarella would strike the unknowing as a deep old cut, such is the reaction it gets.
There’s something incredibly refreshing about the band’s demeanour as well. Guitarist Tim Sult and bassist Dan Maines almost look like their own techs, such is their stage-presence ordinariness — but this makes Clutch seem all the more real, rather than dull shoegazers. Besides, they are easily in the league of artists whose music batters you so satisfyingly you don’t need any damn fancy-schmancy lights and flash-bangeroo, yessir, the music hits the spot.
Having said that, frontman Neil Fallon’s reputation as a wild-eyed rock n’ roll preacher is immediately confirmed from the get-go and he commands the stage with an ease that is a clear symptom of Clutch’s longevity and confidence: you can almost believe that, given their slowly swelling catalogue and successive tours, there is no beginning or end to this band and they have simply always been here, reliably pumping out superbly satisfying arse-kicking rock in its purest form.
There’s a humour and intelligence to the music, however, easily missed by the uninitiated (and those force-feeding themselves choice cuts prior to the gig and rueing the years lost in not having already gotten into them — hello): new ‘un How to Shake Hands sees Fallon running for high office in true rock n’ roll style: First thing that I’m gonna do / Is disclose all those U.F.O.s / Put Jimi Hendrix on the 20 dollar bill / And Bill Hicks on a 5 note!
Bores and wordcount-chasers could pontificate about what Clutch don’t seem to do, which is kick the saloon doors open and venture much into other musical territories, but when they’re in full flow and the room might be structurally weakened by the sheer noise, thinking about anything else at all is nigh-on impossible.
There are depressingly few bands doing rock with real balls, currently. Greta Van Fleet may be younger, prettier and attracting all the attention but Clutch have got real dirt under their cracked fingernails and are worth every inch of your ear canal. That they have spent so long making so much great music without breaking through is scandalous, but the primality is contained within these mid-range venues where the proper obsessives can take another joyous sermon. Allowing casuals to pull up a pew (hello again) is harmless however, as if tonight is anything to go by, it’ll result in conversions to the faith every time.
Reviewer: James Stokes
Photographer: Marc Osborne