It was the last night of the big trip to Detroit. The Patient Mrs. and I had seen some friends, done a lot of touring around the city, drank no shortage of Motor City Brewing Works’ Ghettoblaster and other assorted local brews, and I figured the best possible way to cap being in Michigan was a drive to Flint to catch Clutch at the Machine Shop.
Seeing Clutch in Flint was something special because of the much-enjoyed Live in Flint, Michigan live CD, but also because the timing of the trip had meant I didn’t get to catch either their stop in Brooklyn or the two boat shows they did on a cruise liner around Manhattan (though they did have the exclusive t-shirts from the latter for sale with their merch). These things happen. I also got married on a night they were playing Starland Ballroom. Sometimes schedules conflict, but the chance to see them in a place they deemed supportive enough to record a live album there wasn’t one I was going to pass up, so to the Machine Shop we went.
The venue was basically a cement box, and on the walk inside, I saw several bumper stickers that said, “The driver of this vehicle owns a gun” in varying clever ways. One was just the word “Flint” in all capital letters with a handgun replacing the ‘L.’ At times like that, I always have to remember to keep my wiseassery in check. In any case, the bikers outside seemed to have security in check. Inside, it was crowded and hot and though the reformed trio incarnation of C.O.C. had been slated to support Clutch on the tour, there was on stage some reggae-influenced Sublime-sounding band who were very much not the Animosity lineup.
C.O.C. had, as Clutch vocalist Neil Fallon later explained, pulled out of the tour for “medical reasons.” Pretty vague, and no appendectomies were mentioned, so I don’t know what the deal was. They didn’t play. The douche rock band, whose name I never caught, ran through their set and seemed to appreciate the crowd, but it just wasn’t my thing. Several drunk dudes standing immediately to my right ate it up, so I guess there’s that.
Clutch came out in good time and kicked into a set half-full with surprises. They opened with “Sea of Destruction” from Slow Hole to China, and “Promoter (of Earthbound Causes)” from Blast Tyrant was especially cool to hear, and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster led “Mercury” jamming right into “Child of the City” from From Beale Street to Oblivion. The single, “50,000 Unstoppable Watts,” from their latest album, Strange Cousins From the West, was right on the money, “Immortal” thrilled the crowd and a plugged-in blend of the acoustic and electric arrangements of “Tight Like That” from the self-titled was ultra-grooving — bassist Dan Maines in the pocket while Fallon and Tim Sult doubled up on guitars — but “Animal Farm” sounded slow coming out of “Struck Down” and overall, the band looked kind of tired.
And if they were, it’s certainly understandable. The aforementioned boat shows were basically comprised of two full gigs in one night, with a show the night before and one the night after in Pittsburgh. I don’t think Clutch have taken significant time off from touring since Strange Cousins From the West was released in 2009, but no matter how used to it you might be, five shows in four days — with another one still to come the day after before finally getting a night off — is a lot. Still, part of me can’t help but think it’s time Clutch got off the road, took a month or two away from it, and came back to write another album.
If the “The party’s over/You all got to go/The wolfman is coming out” (or thereabouts) chorus to the unnamed new song they played is any indication of the level of morale — which, admittedly, it could just as easily not be — then yeah, maybe it’s time to step back on the gigging and focus on the creative side of the band for a while. That said, Clutch never fails to satisfy as a live act, and the Machine Shop show was no exception. That new song sat well alongside “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” in the band’s latter-day bluesy style, and the biggest surprise of the evening came as they began to round out the set and threw in “Subtle Hustle,” one of Blast Tyrant‘s catchiest and least-celebrated songs. It’s a personal favorite, anyway.
They ended the pre-encore set with “Electric Worry”/”One Eyed Dollar” from From Beale Street to Oblivion and came back after long enough to let the room cool down a little to do a few acoustic cuts. Fallon once more joined Sult for the ensuing three songs, which felt more like a miniaturized second set than an encore. The first cut they played, I didn’t recognize, but featured heavy lyrical mention of Abraham — could be new, could be a cover, could be old and reinterpreted, but so far as I could tell it wasn’t “Abraham Lincoln” or anything else from the back catalog. They followed that with “Basket of Eggs,” originally from Jam Room and more recently the title-track of the bonus acoustic EP from the Weathermaker Music reissue of Blast Tyrant, and finally closed out with “The Regulator.”
Kind of a morose note to end on, especially when I’ve seen other Clutch shows that cap more like a party than a concert — the time they were joined on stage in Atlantic City by then-touring partner Scott “Wino” Weinrich for “Red Horse Rainbow” comes to mind — but I like to think it was more the band’s knowing how in their element they were and how much the crowd was willing to go with them that let them make a few unexpected turns for the night. I mean, it’s one thing to get on stage, blast out “Burning Beard,” “Big News I & II,” “Elephant Riders” and “Careful with That Mic” — and nothing against that; I’ve seen and enjoyed that many times from Clutch — but though exhausted, they also seemed completely at ease. Why not relax and do something different when you’re among friends?
I was out of the Machine Shop on the quick and back to Detroit, from which I’d launch the long ride back to New Jersey that was then looming overhead. No regrets, though. If anything, I lost more sleep being excited about the show afterwards than I lost by going, and The Patient Mrs. was kind enough to start the drive in the morning anyway. Definitely it was the right choice to make.
More pics after the jump.
Clutch at the Machine ShopClutch, Maryland, Weathermaker