Tack an hour onto the Parkway ride to Atlantic City because it was July 3 and you get me arriving at the Showboat Casino literally two minutes before my scheduled interview with Clutch guitarist Tim Sult (coming soon), rushing up the escalator to find the main room of the House of Blues and promptly sitting for 25 minutes while the band finished their sound check. When The Patient Mrs., who had dropped me off and gone to park the car, came into the building, told her via phone from the backstage kitchen to just cross the rope and walk in like she knew what she was doing. She did and when my interview was done, we met up and went to grab a slice of crappy boardwalk pizza before the show started.
Monster Magnet was supposed to play, which would have at least been convenient since I elected to stay home the rainy Saturday night in May when they hit Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, but for reasons unknown, it was not to be. Speculation, rumor and innuendo was all the explanation I was able to get out of anyone at the show. Massachusetts‘ Shadows Fall somehow became the fill-in for the middle slot, and their fit betwixt Clutch and opening trio Wino (featuring their namesake guitarist/vocalist and Clutch‘s J.P. Gaster on drums) was awkward to say the least, but they made a go of it and did their thing nonetheless. I was one of many late 20-somethings in the crowd who gave a perceptible “Oh yeah, this song,” when they played “Crushing Belial.” It had been a while since I heard that.
But Wino — who might even surpass his D.C.-area comrade Bobby Liebling of Pentagram as the Godfather of American Doom at this point — tacked a solo-riffic start onto the show long before Shadows Fall came on to test the goodwill of Clutch‘s audience. The band, who lost bassist Jon Blank to a drug overdose shortly after returning home from their remarkable closing-night performance at Roadburn in The Netherlands, sounded tight with replacement player Brian White (ex-Dog Fashion Disco, of all bands), though between Gaster and the man himself, a bassist would have to be Jaco Pastorius before he got noticed. Nonetheless, he did an able job thickening out the low end as the band delivered a t-shirt-purchase-worthy run through tracks off the Punctuated Equilibrium record. The joy of the three players in doing what they do seemed to emanate upwards to my balcony-level perch at the House of Blues, and I’m already looking forward to seeing them paired up with Clutch again when they hit NYC in October.
And to their credit, Shadows Fall did sound like they were on their stuff for a band who’ve apparently been locked in a studio for the last several months making a new album. The Atlantic Records alums — something they have in common with the evening’s headliners — now free of the major label influence, were suitably energetic and vocalist Brian Fair‘s dreadlocks are almost long enough now for him to trip over. I had to laugh watching him windmill headbang them around the stage as his bandmates casually each took a step away so as to not get hit. It was a long set, but they managed to keep it moving and to “Take it back to the old school” a couple times, shouting out “Destroyer of Senses” to everyone drinking, which was, well, everyone except those who had a drive back north waiting for them after the concert. D’oh.
When Clutch at last took the stage, the reception was one usually reserved for visiting dignitaries. The House of Blues wasn’t sold out owing to the holiday the next day, but the crowd packed in all the same and it got very warm very fast as Maryland‘s favored sons professional rocked cuts from mostly their last couple records, Robot Hive/Exodus, From Beale Street to Oblivion and the newest, Strange Cousins from the West, with an obligatory rending of “Big News I/II” from 1995′s self-titled late in the set that came much to the delight of the crowd and an encore that started with “Animal Farm” from the same record and ended with the ultra-bluesy revival, “Gravel Road.”
New songs “Motherless Child,” “Abraham Lincoln” and single “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” made their Jersey premiere and fit well with “Child of the City” (an unexpected highlight), “White’s Ferry,” “Electric Worry,” “Power Player” and “Burning Beard,” and as I looked around the venue an absurd number of couples were making out. I never really thought of “The Incomparable Mr. Flannery” as a spark for romance, but whatever. It was a long weekend. Might as well get it on.
By way of delivering on hopes I hadn’t wanted to get too far up (but did anyway), Wino came out and joined Clutch on guitar for “Red Horse Rainbows,” from 2001′s Pure Rock Fury. He’s on the studio version as well, but on stage it fell into a three-guitar jam with Tim Sult, vocalist Neil Fallon and Wino all going at once while bassist Dan Maines and Gaster managed to keep the rhythm together. As the end of the pre-encore set, it simply seemed like life couldn’t get any better. Yeah, then they broke out “Animal Farm.” Good times and another t-shirt bought. That seems to happen a lot when Clutch comes to town.
Funnel cake, unsweetened iced tea and unreasonable speeding had me back north before falling asleep at the wheel, pulling into the valley just before 3:00am. Outside the venue, a very, very drunk man had offered me $20 to stay and drink with him and a friend of his, but memory foam has a value above money and it was time to get the hell out of Atlantic City and go to bed. Even though I slept through most of the next day, and spent my few waking hours drinking and eating barbecue, I’ve yet to get “Gravel Road” and Wino‘s “Release Me” out of my head. It’s a duel in the mental jukebox, and I’ve got no complaints in letting the two battle it out.
Tags: Clutch, Live reviews, Maryland, New Jersey, Weathermaker, Wino