Clutch, Sons Of Icarus & General @ The Ritz, Manchester 10/07/2013

There was a special significance about this show, and it was all down to the popularity of the headline band and the amazing support that they have right here in Manchester. Originally scheduled to play Academy 2, demand for tickets was so strong that the show had to be moved to the Ritz, a venue which in terms of size and prestige is topped only by the Apollo and the Arena. There was a tremendous sense of excitement and anticipation among the audience members, and within the band themselves. The opportunity to play to a larger, more boisterous crowd was not going to be wasted.

            The night began with Coventry-based five piece General, whose opening number ‘Black River’ had a very deep and sludgy sound, reminiscent of Black Sabbath’s Volume 4. The vocalist even sounded like Ozzy Osbourne. That stoner vibe continued with ‘Better Dead’ and this one was particularly notable for a shift in tempo midway through emphasised particularly heavily on the drums, before everything slowed back down to the established rhythm of the first movement. During ‘Hell In Your Eyes’ the vocals got a bit deeper and took on more of a Black Stone Cherry feel, and here as in the previous songs the bass was consistently loud and powerful. Played with comfortable ease through the use of fingers rather than pick, the bassist exuded an understated confidence. Not to be outdone the guitars utilised the wah to great effect during ‘Monkey City’, before the final song of the set ‘Bullet Train’ presented drum work and a guitar break strongly reminiscent of Sabbath’s ‘Children Of The Grave’. All in all this was a damn good set characterised by a weighty sound that harkens back to the darkest sounds of hard rock and heavy metal’s early days.

By the time Sons of Icarus came out to begin their set the Ritz had become pretty full, and the big crowd was treated to a distinctive riff that was something of a cross between ‘Higher Ground’ by the Red Hot Chili Peppers and the works of Mk. II Deep Purple. Lead singer Andy Masson reminded me of Myles Kennedy in the tone and extensive range of his delivery, showcasing impressively long held notes. Just as with the previous band there was much to admire about the bass, Alex Masson confidently playing with his fingers and moving around the stage in a much freer way, this band only being a quartet and all. On guitar Steve Balkwill also distinguished himself during a song called ‘Make Amends’, his solo here had a real classic Slash from Guns N Roses feel to it. There was a funny moment halfway through the set where a brief pause was taken to allow a technical issue with the bass to be sorted out, and then during the subsequent number ‘Falling’ Alex Masson preceded to take centre stage while a guitar solo was being played. He was not done either; during the opening of ‘Not Myself’ he authoritatively paced the stage plucking notes with a vengeance. Mike McQuillan was also really giving his all on the drums during this one. There was more bass hilarity when Alex stepped up to the centre microphone, looking like he was going to take over lyric duties like Jason Newsted used to do back in the day with Metallica, but instead he just laughed maniacally. A wonderfully worked set was brought to a close with ‘You Want It All’ and I must say I was really into these guys. As you probably gathered I was particularly impressed with Alex Masson, especially during the last number wherein he stood with his foot on the monitor, his hair hiding his face while he banged his head, he looked like Cliff Burton up there. I think I’m going to have to check these guys out again when they play Retro Bar on September 13th.

It was now time for the main event, and man was the place packed. It was absolutely full to the rafters, people crammed in all the way back to the upstairs bar. That call to move to a bigger venue had been well and truly justified. ‘Earth Rocker’, the title track from the latest album, kicked things off with its atmospheric bass intro followed by some psychedelic guitar work. The floor was packed with sweaty moving bodies during this and the following number ‘Unto The Breach’, and given how hot the weather was outside it must have been absolutely boiling down there. No one seemed to be suffering any ill effects from the humidity though as they gave their heroes a rapturous response. ‘Mr Freedom’ had a grungy feel to it, especially on Neil Fallon’s vocals, while ‘Subtle Hustle’ inspired the whole audience to sing along. Another bass intro signalled ‘Profits of Doom’, which had a real Rage Against the Machine vibe and had the place really buzzing. ‘Crucial Velocity’ slowed things down a little at first before picking up in pace, and once more the floor was a sea of movement. Jean-Paul Gaster looked particularly badass sat at the drums during this one with blue light shining from behind him, giving him a sweet silhouetted look. For ‘The Regulator’ Neil Fallon took on guitar duties alongside Tim Sult, before letting loose on the harmonica during ‘D.C. Sound Attack’. Rounding off his eclectic musical display he then took possession of his own cowbell, and the way he was playing it sort of reminded me of the lengthy drum closing to the Elf song ‘Ain’t It All Amusing?’

Before starting ‘The Elephant Riders’ Fallon took a moment to thank the Manchester crowd for their vociferous support. He discussed playing a gig at the Hard Rock Cafe in the past and told the audience that Manchester had been good to them over the years. Then things got really atmospheric as Sult began the anthemic ‘Gone Cold’ on an acoustic guitar, inciting the capacity crowd to clap along. Things got heavy again for ‘The Face’, which was notable for the exceptional reverb behind Fallon’s vocals. Then the riffage got even heavier for the opening of ‘Oh Isabella’, before taking on a distinctive Iommi-esque vibe. The very popular ’50,000 Unstoppable Watts’ was next, here the audience loudly and passionately sang the famous “anthrax and radio” refrain. Their energy only increased as a mosh pit broke out during ‘Cyborg Bette’. The opening notes and lyrics to the final number of the evening ‘Electric Worry’ inspired an earth-shattering roar from the audience, who went wilder than they had been all night, which was some achievement. One shirtless fan was crowd-surfed over the barrier with so much force that he landed hard face-first on the floor below. He was all right though… Once the band left the stage the demand for an encore for enthusiastic and intense, and they did not disappoint. Fallon told the roasting rockers in attendance that they had two more songs left for them; “one from ten years ago, the other from twenty”. First up was ‘The Mob Goes Wild’, of anarchic music video fame, before ‘A Shogun Named Marcus’ rounded off a spectacular night.

What a night, my lucky streak of seeing awesome gigs at the Ritz continued and on top of that this was one of those shows where each of the performing bands not only complimented each other well but received an appropriately good response from the crowd. With Earth Rocker proving to be Clutch’s highest charting album to date and given the exceptional response they achieved on this night, I can definitely see them topping the heady heights of the Ritz in the future, perhaps even going a step further.


Headliner Setlist

1)      Earth Rocker

2)      Unto The Breach

3)      Mr. Freedom

4)      Subtle Hustle

5)      Profits Of Doom

6)      Crucial Velocity

7)      Book, Saddle & Go

8)      The Regulator

9)      D.C. Sound Attack

10)  The Elephant Riders

11)  Gone Cold

12)  The Face

13)  Oh Isabella

14)  50,000 Unstoppable Volts

15)  Cyborg Bette

16)  Electric Worry

17)  One Eye Dollar

18)  The Mob Goes Wild

19)  A Shogun Named Marcus 


Review: Michael Dodd

Photos: Craig Hutton

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