Clutch @ The Barfly, Birmingham – 29th August 2008

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A humid night in Birmingham, and a sold out crowd, means The Barfly is going to be a sweat-box – and I wasn’t wrong…

Due to a last minute reviewer switcheroo, I turn up at the venue after Taint’s set. But having seen them before in this venue, again supporting Clutch, I seem to remember that this sludgy three-piece from Swansea were loud – maybe a little too loud for the acoustic randomness that is The Barfly. They obviously impressed last time to be back supporting Clutch again.

The beauty of a Clutch gig is the diversity of the crowd. All styles of music are represented here tonight – scenesters, metal heads, hip hoppers, hippies and the odd person obviously moving on to Broad Street when the show ends. Pretty much all of them enjoying Clutch’s amalgamation of stoner, funk and blues rock.

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Tonight, we get the pleasure of Maryland’s Clutch in their purest form – no keys, and no harmonica; the rock-solid rhythm section of Jean-Paul Gaster (drums) and Dan Maines (bass), Tim Sult on guitar for the whole gig, Neil Fallon on vocals and guitar, and Bryan Hinkley occasionally standing stage left on guitar.

What has always struck me about Clutch, and tonight is no different, is just how tight the band is. To be fair, they have been gigging for 17 years, and apparently they average about 100 shows a year. They know what to do to keep the fans happy, and the fans show their appreciation throughout the entire show by pumping their fists in the air. It doesn’t matter whether you’re at the front, sides, back or on the balcony – you’ve gotta shake them fists.

Clutch pack the songs (spanning 12 years of their career) into their 95 minute performance tonight, barely pausing between tracks. When they do pause, the crowd shout their requests, and it seems like no two are the same. Everyone there seems to have their own favourite from Clutch’s eight studio albums, and cheers from different pockets of the crowd erupt every time a new song starts.

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Fallon seemed on fine form this evening, at times rapping verses like an evangelical minister addressing the preachers standing before him, and other times fixing his gaze on one member of the audience, emoting to just that person.

Unfortunately, Fallon aside, the rest of the band seem to forget that they’re entertaining people – Maines and Sult standing on their marks stage right and left respectively, hardly moving away from their pedal boards.

Highlights of the evening were the tracks “Texan Book of the Dead” (from 1995’s self titled album), “Electric Worry” (from their
last studio album From Beale Street to Oblivion) and “Mice And Gods” (from 2005’s Robot Hive / Exodus) – the audience’s enthusiasm seeming to surprise Fallon on the last two tracks. “Hell yeah, Ber-min-haaaam” his response.

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All seemed to be going well until the encore – someone needs to tell these guys that coming back on stage and playing an extended jam including a bit of drum solo isn’t the way to keep the crowd pumped.

Encore aside, Clutch played a solid tight set, which sent the crowd home happy. Well, apart from the poor guy who turned up to the venue without a ticket, and ended up sitting in the smoking area listening to the set mostly on his own. I overheard him saying to someone “I know what the band look like, and I know what the venue looks like. And the sound’s pretty good out here!”.

Time Horizon
The Elephant Riders (from 1998’s The Elephant Riders)
Ship of Gold (from 1998’s The Elephant Riders)
Rapture of Riddley Walker (from 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion)
Escape From the Prison Planet (from 1995’s Clutch)
Slow Hole to China (from 2003’s Slow Hole to China)
Mob Goes Wild (from 2004’s Blast Tyrant)
Mice and Gods (from 2005’s Robot Hive / Exodus)
Texan Book of The Dead (from 1995’s Clutch)
(Notes From The Trial Of) La Curandera (from 2004’s Blast Tyrant)
Basket of Eggs (from 2004’s Jam Room)
The Soapmakers (from 1998’s The Elephant Riders)
Promoter (Of Earthbound Causes) (from 2004’s Blast Tyrant)
Electric Worry (from 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion)

Review – Tony Hackett
Photos – Jenny Tolley

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