It was almost exactly a year ago that Clutch last rocked House of Blues Cleveland with Lionize.
They did it again last night, this time adding Miami sludge-metal mavens Torche to the bill.
The December 28 show didn’t differ much from last year’s, which was just fine with this sold-out crowd.
Oh sure, the set list looked a little different (Clutch prefers changing things up night-to-night), with singer Neil Fallon and the boys bulldozing through “House That Peterbilt” (from their self-titled 1995 disc) and “Pure Rock Fury,” (from the similarly-titled 2001 album) alongside a new song and a choice cover.
At this point the Frederick, Maryland musicians are honorary Ohioans, having played The Agora and The Odeon in the ‘90s and Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica in the ‘00s. They’ve migrated to HOB annually for the last five or six years, and—despite relegation to a smaller stage at the fest—they ruled at Rock on the Range in Columbus last May.
Sunday’s show was another testament to just how far Clutch have come in twenty-five years, both artistically and commercially. The band’s latest studio effort, Earth Rocker, is another certified critical smash and fan-pleaser, and they’re already in prep stages for the next LP on their own Weathermaker label.
HOB was packed, with nearly everyone in attendance eager to reciprocate the quartet’s energy even without the luxury of ample personal space to do so. The club warmed quickly, pungent body odor comingling with the faint-but-fragrant hint of herb over the course of the four-hour extravaganza.
Fronted by raspy-throated Fallon, the band steamrolled through a hundred-minute set that leaned heavy on Earth Rocker (about five tunes) but didn’t forsake their now-classic catalog (Transnational Speedway League, Jam Room, Pure Rock Fury, Blast Tyrant, etc.). The last disc scored the group their highest Billboard chart debut ever—and showed up near the top of many 2013 best-of lists by Village Voice, Loudwire, Noisecreep, and other trades. But it was nice hearing oldies like “Burning Beard,” “The Regulator,” and “The Yeti,” too.
The fiesty four-piece still eschews low-brow misogynist party time rock and “hey baby” power ballads in favor of Sabbeth-esque guitar riffs and whimsical, wild lyrics that often seem yanked right out of sci-fi novels and college courses in world history. They’re distinguished even for a hard rock / metal act, what with guitarist Tim Sult’s wah-soaked Les Paul leads, drummer Jean-Paul Gaster’s masterful stick work, bassist Dan Maines’ undulating Rickenbacker grooves, and Fallon’s manic, psycho-preacher / carnival barker delivery and hill-jack swagger.
Striding onstag in cargo pants and black T-shirt (promoting his side project, The Company Band), Fallon roared into “Peterbilt,” bounding across the stage with arms gesticulating madly. His kinetic energy never really waned—and visually the movement helped offset the relatively static positioning band mates Sult and Maines, both consummate players, even if of the stay-put-and-just-rock variety in concert.
Judging from the vociferous call-and-response shout-alongs, everyone present already owns at least one copy of Earth Rocker, and thus kept in-step with Fallon on Rocket 88 “Crucial Velocity,” “Cyborg Betty” and grinding Shakespearean time travel adventure “Unto the Breach” without difficulty. They banged heads to galloping Wild West rocker “Book, Saddle, & Go” and pumped fists to the sequestration-skewering “D.C. Sound Attack” as Fallon huffed on a harmonica and thwacked a cowbell, deriding the political “hellhounds on your trail…in Necro City.”
The band cranked the volume to cranium-crushing levels (What’s this about db limits?) on “Elephant Riders,” a 1998 nugget wherein Fallon envisaged pachyderm platoons in the American Civil War.
Sult’s harder to pin down than the subtle-hustlin’ singer. Unlike most chops-savvy shredders, the guitarist stands in one spot onstage, almost perfectly still—and he’d probably root his shoes to the floorboards if he didn’t need them to toe-tap his effects pedals. There’s zero “look at me” showing off with the guy, even though he brings considerable technical prowess and primal energy to the gargantuan mix: Crunchy chords, cracklin’ leads, wicked wah-wah. Sult once again kept his eyes trained on either his guitar neck (or his picking hand) for most of Sunday’s show, barely cracking a smile, all but oblivious to the pandemonium in the pit just a few feet away.
But damn, can he play. And we’re assuming he enjoys doing so, in spite of his poker face.
Fallon strapped on a guitar later on, too. “Regulators” was the sole “swinging pendulum” on offer from Blast Tyrant—but a dose of “Electric Worry” calmed the cavalry.
Clutch issued the compilation Summer Sound Attack on iTunes a few weeks back. The 10-track download includes some of their more familiar hits (like “The Mob Goes Wild,” “50,000 Unstoppable Watts,” “10001110101”) alongside the more recent Earth Rocker cuts—making it a great starting point for Clutch newbies.
The band will head to San Paulo, Brazil for the first time ever in the Spring, and was recently invited to play Download Fest in June 2015(at Donington Park, U.K.) with KISS, Judas Priest, Billy Idol, and a host of other denim-and-leather clad musical miscreants. They’ll also hit Rock Am Ring and Forta Rock Fest in the warmer months.
No word yet on when to expect that new LP. But with Clutch, it’s always worth the wait.
Torche warmed things up for Fallon and friends with forty-five minutes of in-your-face dirge metal, pouring on entries from 2008’s Meanderthal and 2012 Harmonicraft thicker than a truckload of wet cement. The Floridians seemed to favor volume over virtuosity, and often slowed things down to the point where they were just banging out Pleistocene power chords without much sense of song.
Aggressive? Sure. Uncompromising? Hell yeah. Torche featured more quirky stop-start cadences than a refurbished weed-whacker, but came off like a runaway locomotive once they got going. It’d be too simple to write the Floridians off as mere sludge-rock, but one definitely got the impression that the fellows routinely find catharsis through loudness.
Singer / guitarist Steve Brooks evinced competence on the pieces proper, tweaking strings on his white Electrical Guitar Company Standard, and lead guitarist Andrew Elstner contributed just the right amount of texture with his fiery fills. Rounding out the Torche rhythm section were head-banging bassist Jonathan Nunez and full-throttle percussionist Rick Smith.
Washington, D.C.’s Lionize opened with a blend of Southern rock / reggae jams from the albums Destruction Manual, Superczar and Vulture, and Space Pope & The Glass Machine. Guitarist / singer Nate Bergman displayed flash and finesse on a magnificent-looking Hagestrom guitar while Henry Upton thumped his four-string, the bassist’s fingers funking away even when tempos increased to breakneck speeds.
Lionize’s latest, Jetpack Soundtrack, dropped last year on Clutch’s Weathermaker imprint.