December 28th, 2009
Let it be known that I have probably seen Clutch no less than a dozen times dating back to 1996 when I first saw them headline an incredible bill that included Fu Manchu, Orange 9MM and Core. While they are truly an amazing live act in their own right, one of the most exciting things about a Clutch show is finding out who they’ve pegged as openers. Throughout the years, I’ve been introduced to an eclectic bunch of opening bands like Stinking Lizaveta, The BellRays, Dixie Witch and Clutch’s own side project The Bakerton Group, just to name a few. Tonight however, the Maryland boys one-upped even themselves by assembling one of the strongest lineups I’ve seen in quite some time.
Never Got Caught
Prior to this show, I was unfamiliar with this Beantown power-trio which includes Bryan Hinkley on vocals and guitar, Bill Hinkley on drums and Paul Dallaire on bass. I had no idea what to expect, particularly when the fellas took the stage in spiffy suits and nice hats looking more like a bunch of 1930’s era gangstas ready for a bank robbery than a rock band. Once they started playing however, it was all about that heavy, heavy groove.
It was easy to see (or hear rather) how Never Got Caught got on this tour as their musical style gives a rather obvious nod to Clutch (and it just so happens that Clutch vocalist Neil Fallon lends guest vocals to one of the songs on their latest album, “Creepshow”). What sets these guys apart from their peers however is the healthy dose of classic rock that permeates their sound…listening to Never Got Caught is like listening to the bastard child of Clutch and AC/DC. This correlation is due in no small part to Bryan Hinkley’s raspy vocal style which often evokes Bon Scott and that classic rock guitar sound that owes an awful lot to fellow Bostonians, Aerosmith.
Never Got Caught proved to be an excellent opening act for the evening and got the proceedings off on the right foot. When the band finished playing one particular song, Hinkley immediately leaned into his mic with arms stretched out, palms up and simply said (with a heavy Boston accent) “Eh?...Eh?”…translation: “pretty damn good, right?” The answer was a resounding yes, and by the sound of the crowd, most everyone in attendance agreed with me.
Local (Silver Spring, MD) stoner/reggae fusion act Lionize was next on tonight’s bill. The band consists of Chris Brooks on keys, Henry Upton on bass, Mel Randolph on drums and the duo of Nate Bergman and, to my surprise, Clutch’s Tim Sult on guitars (Tim isn’t listed on the band’s website as a member, but he was up there onstage tonight). The tunes sounded like Sixty Watt Shaman meets Bob Marley, or in other words, a heavy dose of stoner jam-rock mixed with reggae. Lionize managed to blend the two styles so seamlessly, I had to wonder why it hadn’t been attempted before now. Throw in the Doors-like organ, which was prominent throughout the band’s set, and you have a perfectly original musical concoction. Yet again, a very impressive performance and a perfect opening act for the legendary Clutch.
As I watched the next band set up their equipment, I was extremely skeptical as to whether or not they could meet the high expectations associated with having a name as utterly cool as Doomriders. Lucky for me, this Boston (what’s in the water up there?) based act met my expectations and then some. Sounding like a slightly less heavy version of High on Fire, the band proved to be the highlight of the night in my mind.
Doomriders consists of Nate Newton (who also plays bass in hardcore band Converge) on guitar and vocals, Jebb Riley on bass, Chris Pupecki on guitar and John-Robert Conners on drums. The band’s abrasive style, which was much more “metal” than anything else on tonight’s bill, seemed to catch a large percentage of the crowd off guard. Fifteen years ago that may not have been the case at a Clutch show, but the headliners’ audience has changed over the years to fit their stylistic shift towards a more bluesy, jam-band type of rock…a metal crowd, this was not. That fact wasn’t lost on Newton, as was evidenced after finishing one song when he smirked and said to the crowd, with a hint of sarcasm, “kind of crazy, huh?”
It was obvious that the band was having a blast onstage, tearing through songs off their latest album “Darkness Come Alive” (a masterpiece if I do say so myself…I picked it up at the show after witnessing their set). Newton’s sense of humor was obvious throughout the set, for example after asking the crowd to “give it up for Never Got Caught”, to which he got a very mild response, he screamed “oh c’mon, give it up for Never Got Caught!”, at which point the crowd erupted and the singer said simply…“proper”, before launching into the band’s next song. On a night chock full of amazing bands, Doomriders were the cream of the crop (and like it or not, I’m including Clutch in that assessment)…proper indeed!
One of the best things about going to a Clutch show is that you never know exactly what you’ll hear. They’re liable to play anything off of their nine studio albums (and three EPs/compilations) on any given night. That’s why when I heard that this tour would feature a full performance of their 1995 self-titled masterpiece, I was actually somewhat disappointed. Now don’t get me wrong, I tend to agree with the majority of Clutch fans, that the self-titled release is in fact their high water mark. But, they have so much great music in their repertoire, that it seems a shame to focus two-thirds of a set list on one album. But the whole “play an older album in its entirety” strategy seems to be the flavor of the moment for a lot of bands recently (see The Cult, Megadeth, et al), so I guess I’m not all that surprised.
Having said all of that, the stoner rock godfathers, hailing from Germantown, Maryland, took the stage and launched right into “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” off of their incredible new album, “Strange Cousins from the West”. Realizing these guys need no introduction, I’ll do it anyway. The band is made up of Neil Fallon on vocals (and occasional guitar) and Tim Sult on guitar, both of whom I’ve already mentioned previously in this review. In addition, Clutch consists of Dan Maines on bass and of course, the best rock drummer since John Bonham…Jean-Paul Gaster.
After rolling through over half of their latest album, the band settled into the “in its entirety” performance of their self-titled opus. Again, having heard all of these songs multiple times live, I have to admit that I wasn’t astonished to have the experience of listening to them in the order that they appear on the album. However, given that I had consumed my fair share of frothy beverages by this point in the evening and the band was playing what amounts to my favorite album (of theirs), I found myself shouting right along with Fallon (and the rest of the crowd) by the time he sang “we got Greedo…Solo to the rear” off of “Big News II”.
If you’re at all familiar with Clutch, then you know what ensued over the next hour or so as they worked their way through the album. From the powerful swagger of “Rock n Roll Outlaw” to the requisite crowd sing-along during “Spacegrass” (”Dodge Swinger, 1973, top down, chassis free…Buzz Aldrin, Armstrong, or maybe just me…Don’t worry, its coming…Don’t worry its coming…Jesus on the dashboard!”) to the intense, yet zany hardcore of “Animal Farm”, Clutch was on top of their game tonight, as always.
By the time they reached the chilled out, laid back album closer, the instrumental “Tim Sult vs The Greys”, it’s a wonder the band, or their audience, had anything left in the tank. But after a short break, the boys returned to the stage for an encore that included two more tracks from the new album in addition to an energetic version of “Regulator” and then the finale…“Gravel Road” off of my second favorite Clutch record, “Robot Hive/Exodus”. By this point, the 9:30 Club crowd had been sufficiently rocked.
If you’ve never seen a Clutch show (and you’re at all interested in rock music), then you owe it to yourself to do so. They are truly one of the most talented acts you’re likely to see, undoubtedly due to their incredible work ethic…these guys tour like no other band around. To use their own words, Clutch are “veterans of the trade” and they continue to prove it every single time I see them…tonight was no different.
50,000 Unstoppable Watts
Let a Poor Man Be
Algo Ha Cambiado
Big News I
Big News II
Rock n Roll Outlaw
Texan Book of the Dead
Escape From the Prison Planet
I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth
Tight Like That
The House that Peterbilt
Tim Sult vs The Greys