Going to gigs and festivals has eaten into a lot of my spare cash (and credit) over the last 20 years, so it has become a more and more rare occurrence that I am seeing band for the first time, especially one so well established as Clutch. The American rock band were under my radar until they released their 2013 album Earth Rocker which I bought as a gift for my fella, who is a huge fan. Subsequently, it became a firm favourite with my then new born son, having the amazing ability to soothe him off to sleep by the end of ‘Crucial Velocity’, giving it magical status in my eyes. (Heavy rock sending him to sleep – he’s going to grow up with good music taste…) So going to see them live at their Manchester Academy gig was something I was hugely looking forward to.
With a sizable crowd beginning to form, Lionize, a rock, soul and blues band based in Maryland took to the stage. The band formed in 2004, have five albums and an EP under their belt and have extensively toured the US, yet this supporting role on tour with Clutch was their first visit to the UK – and what a performance! Frontman Nate Bergman belted out vocals and guitar whilst the varying rhythms were kept perfectly by Henry Upton on bass and Mel Randolph on drums. Yet it was the addition of Chris Brooks’ keyboards that gave this band that different edge. That and the eclectic range of musical styles heard whilst thundering through their 45 minute set. I found myself thinking of Iron Butterfly’s ‘In A Gadda Da Vida’ one minute, then 70’s heavy metal, then reggae, then blues, all underpinned by a juggernaut of hard and heavy rock that would satisfy any metal fan. This is a band to look out for and judging by the sea of nodding heads around me and the massive applause that erupted at the end of their set, I was not alone in thinking so.
The anticipation was rising in the now much filled Academy and Clutch strolled on stage to rapturous applause. Clutch are currently riding high on the back of the release of Earth Rocker and it was with offerings from this album that proceedings began. Kicking off with ‘Crucial Velocity’ it was clear from the off we were going to be in for a good night. Energy levels were high as Neil Fallon bounced around the stage, in contrast to guitarist Tim Sult and bassist Dan Maines who stood like sentinels either side of the stage – the guardians of the rock n roll.
The night thundered along with two more songs from Earth Rocker before diving into their ample back catalogue, treating the fans to renditions of ‘Profits of Doom’ and ‘The Mob Goes Wild’ from Blast Tyrant, ‘Pure Rock Fury’ from the album of the same name and ‘Spacegrass’ from the self-titled album Clutch. This did not just please the fans who have been with Clutch from the beginning, but also showed the newer fans that they have always been a magnificent hard rock band and investment in their previous nine albums from the last 24 years would be one worth making. In fact, their considerable experience showed throughout the night and their fantastic musicianship was apparent to everyone present and the show a pleasure to behold.
Something has to be said of Neil Fallon’s stage presence. My fella had told he prior to the gig that he would liken him to a bible belt preacher delivering a sermon, and I would say this was a fitting description. Neil Fallon strides round the stage, delivering each song with such passion and conviction you are compelled to watch him. You want to hear what he has to say you seek him out on stage and are carried along on a wave of excitement that is a Clutch live performance. I truly believe he is one of the best frontmen out there. After a couple more songs from Earth Rocker and we suddenly find ourselves halfway through the set and the lights being dimmed for the stripped back and slow ‘Gone Cold’. Neil Fallon took a turn on acoustic guitar and the crowd clapped and sung along enthusiastically before the band brought things back up with ‘The Face’ and yet more from their extensive back catalogue.
Then it was Jean-Paul Gaster’s turn to shine. Now, I haven’t been the biggest fan of drum solos in the past. Don’t get me wrong, I do like them, I have just found that they can tend to go on a bit too long for my liking – just my personal preference. Part way in I usually find myself heading to the toilet so I can come but ready to continue bouncing along to the music. This did not happen this time. I was cheering along with the rest of the crowd as Jean-Paul Gaster beat on his skins – there was no way I was leaving this gig.
Lionize keyboard player, Chris Brooks returned to the stage to help Clutch out with their performance of 10001110101 and the crowd were chanting along to the final song. Then before we knew it, and after a 75 minute set, Neil Fallon was wishing us thank you and good night. Five minutes of shouting, cheering, clapping and whistles of the crowd ensued letting Clutch know in no uncertain terms that we did not want this to be over before the band returned kicking off the encore with ‘The Regulator’. Grabbing his harmonica and cow bell in readiness for ‘DC Sound Attack’, Neil Fallon asked “You still with us?”. The crowd’s response was amazing – we most definitely were. There was life in this old crowd yet! The party atmosphere continued throughout the encore – ‘Electric Worry’ and ‘One Eye Dollar’. The crowd were loving it, bouncing and singing with renewed vigour. When the night eventually drew to a close, I was left amazed and fully satisfied – like literally the best gig I have been to in quite some time.
And now as I sit here, writing this review, listening to Earth Rocker, smiling and still slightly in awe whilst watching my son dance along in his high chair when he’s supposed to be eating his dinner, I can’t help but hope that Clutch will be around for a good few years to come and back on these shores so my son can experience what I did – and I see absolutely no reason why they shouldn’t be.
1) Crucial Velocity
2) Cyborg Bette
3) Earth Rocker
4) Profits of Doom
5) The Mob Goes Wild
6) Pure Rock Fury
8) Unto the Breach
9) Gone Cold
10) The Face
11) The Soapmakers
12) Burning Beard
13) Cypress Grove
15) The Wolf Man Kindly Requests…
16) The Regulator
17) D.C. Sound Attack!
18) Electric Worry
19) One Eye Dollar
Review & Photos: Lauren Dean