How bummed was I to miss Wino opening for Clutch, you ask? Well I was super friggin’ bummed. Thanks for rubbing it in. Between parking and standing on line to get into Crocodile Rock, I missed his set entirely to the point that I thought maybe he was going on after Saviours and before Mondo Generator, or maybe even after Mondo Generator and before Clutch, where they could transition from one set to another by launching into “Red Horse Rainbow” from Pure Rock Fury, on the album version of which Wino guested on guitar. No such luck. Turns out I just missed him.
It was a shitter way to start out an otherwise great night. Saviours were just getting ready to start up when I walked in. In all the years I’ve been going to shows, this was my first time at Crocodile Rock, which reminded me a bit of the Machine Shop in Flint, MI, in its late-’90s vibe. They were around for nü-metal and had the framed pictures on the wall of Union and Ill Nino to prove it. The sound wasn’t bad, but the place was already packed and only became more so. Doubtless a good portion of the crowd came as refugees from the originally scheduled Starland Ballroom show, unfortunately canceled in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy while that venue, which was flooded out, rebuilds and regroups.
But for missing Wino (I mean, seriously, how do I miss Wino? I’m Mr. Wino Wednesday — you’d think I’d just have like a Wino-dar to go off and let me know when he’s playing), the evening had much to offer. Clutch rolling through on their annual holiday run playing no fewer than four new songs from the forthcoming Earth Rocker, a reinvigorated Mondo Generator, and Saviours, who I hadn’t seen in three years since they hit Brooklyn supporting Saint Vitus. Not much had changed, though their stonerly riffer’s thrash seemed all the more Californian perhaps because it was 20 degrees outside and half the crowd had their winter coats on. Some stuff is just better left to warmer weather.
Still, the band seemed to waste no time in winning over any skeptics who might have been present. “Crucifire,” from their full-length debut of the same name, was especially visceral, with guitarists Austin Barber and Sonny Reinhardt doing classic metal harmonics for an audience that seemed to appreciate the Maiden influence. Bassist Carson Binks and drummer Scott Batiste made a formidable rhythm section beneath the rampant soloing, locking in fast grooves in a kind of insistent thrust, all thrash but aware too of classic metal and hints of doomed thickness. Whatever else you can say about Saviours, they’ve always effectively straddled genre lines, and though I basically missed the boat on their 2011 album, Death’s Procession, they made a resounding statement in its favor by closing with “Crete’n” from it. If I’d been able to get to the merch table from where I was standing, I’d probably have bought a copy.
Ditto that for Mondo Generator‘s 2012 offering, Hell Comes to Your Heart, because whatever else you can say about Nick Oliveri‘s many adventures — in and out of Kyuss Lives/Vista Chino, on probation for a well-publicized swat team incident, etc. — he fucking brought it to Croc Rock. I was surprised, though I probably shouldn’t have been. He’s got more than enough presence to front a band, and though in Mondo Generator, the focus is largely on the abrasive-type edge he brought to Queens of the Stone Age during his tenure there, his songwriting core remains above average. I’m a firm believer that neither he nor Josh Homme are as strong separately as they are together, but I suppose you could say the same for any number of pivotal collaborations. Either way, the band behind him was tight, and they threw in enough QOTSA material — opening with “Ode to Clarissa” and also sprinkling “Gonna Leave You” and “Millionaire” throughout — to keep any attention that might have otherwise wandered, my own included.
At least from where I was standing, it seemed like a pretty hip room, so I think most people knew what and whom they were watching, though I heard someone comment that they must have been from NJ because guitarist Ian Taylor was wearing a shirt that said “Don’t Mess with Jersey” on the front. That led me to wonder what it might be like to see Mondo Generator without any of the context of Oliveri‘s time in Kyuss, Queens of the Stone Age, etc., and just to take it all on the level of “some band opening for Clutch.” I think I’d still call them a solid stage act, but the level of appreciation would undoubtedly be different, as when they closed with “13th Floor” from 2000’s Cocaine Rodeo, realizing the song also appeared on QOTSA‘s Rated R as “Tension Head.” It’s the little things. In any case, for never having caught Oliveri‘s outfit live before, they impressed, and his bass tone remains enviable pretty much unto itself.
I was still holding out hope that Wino might just jump on stage for a couple acoustic songs before Clutch got going, but no dice. It would’ve been hard to follow the unhinged punkisms of Mondo Generator anyway, and the crowd around me didn’t exactly look like the unplugged type. Dudes in Fear Factory and Deftones shirts, Black Label Society and so forth. Sometimes I forget how distinguishable “heavy” and “metal” can be, but it’s cool, or at least it was once Clutch took the stage. They were universally agreed upon.
The set opened with “The Mob Goes Wild” and went right into “Walking in the Great Shining Path of Monster Trucks” from Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes and Undeniable Truths. That Clutch would hit up their full-length debut — which turns 20 in 2013 — at all was a shocker, but to do it so early in the set even more so. By the time they got around to some of the new songs, though, it made sense. Following “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” from 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West, the landmark Maryland foursome dove headfirst into “Crucial Velocity,” which was as straight-ahead and aggressive a song from them as I’ve heard since 2001’s Pure Rock Fury. They’ve said all along that was their intent for Earth Rocker, or at least how things wound up, but still, “Crucial Velocity” hit with a surprising swiftness from a band who’ve spent their last three records reveling in blues and funk influences almost exclusively.
Nothing against either approach. Frankly, Clutch could do whatever the hell they want and their audience, likely myself included, would be along for the ride. And if Clutch have in fact decided to take an approach more similar to their earlier noise-rocking days — some of the stuff I’ve heard from Earth Rocker bears that out, some less so; I’ve yet to listen the whole album and can only go on what I’ve seen them do live — it makes an interesting kind of sense in terms of how they relate one album to the next. Interview fodder, if nothing else. They backed “Crucial Velocity” with “Gravel Road,” frontman Neil Fallon picking up his slide and joining Tim Sult on guitar, while bassist Dan Maines — who I ‘m pretty sure was in the pocket before he even walked on stage — and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster held together a semi-extended jam that seemed to indicate that Clutch are working on reconciling the different aspects of their musical personality, still developing after more than 22 years.
“Earth Rocker” itself, the title-track of the upcoming album, reads more or less like a manifesto. Lines like, “If you’re gonna do it, do it live on stage/Or don’t do it at all,” and, “I don’t need your stinkin’ laminate/I don’t need your VIP/I don’t need your dedications/’Cause I wear it on my sleeve,” certainly back that up, and Fallon makes a convincing case with Clutch‘s roadtime bolstering his argument. The chorus was smoother in Allentown even than when I saw them play the track in Jersey in October. Once again offsetting old and new, “Earth Rocker” shot into “A Shogun Named Marcus,” and though I’d seen the setlist beforehand to take a picture of it, it was still a palpable thrill when they threw in “Regulator” from 2004’s Blast Tyrant — their first collaboration with producer Machine, who also helmed the new album. Have I mentioned Clutch have a new record coming yet? Oh, I have? Okay then.
One hopes you’ll forgive the overkill on the point, but honestly, seeing the new stuff was a big part of the reason I wanted to catch the show, Clutch‘s holiday tour tradition notwithstanding. “Cyborg Betty” seemed like it needed some more time to set in than the other two — or maybe that’s just because I didn’t know it as well — though it did well shifting into “Child of the City” from From Beale Street to Oblivion, which is a cut I initially wrote off when the record came out but has since become a favorite live, and “Cypress Grove” once again from Blast Tyrant, the pair of songs united by a heavy stomp that is definitively Clutch‘s own, and before I knew it, the show was almost over. I stayed up front the whole time, having kind of hollowed out a niche near the security barricade, and waited for “D.C. Sound Attack,” positioned as the penultimate feature of the regular set, right before “Electric Worry.”
That’s pretty good company to keep, especially for a new song, but Clutch seemed to be betting that the harmonica and midsection cowbell jam would find favor even among people unfamiliar with the song as a whole, and they were right. Probably also helped that “D.C. Sound Attack” has one of those choruses you seem to want to sing along to even before it’s over the first time — “Hell hounds on your trail/What a pity/But that’s the price you pay/Shaking hands in Necro City” — but no question that the place went off when Fallon picked up the cowbell from his mic stand. They seemed like they were still nailing down some of the transitions, and especially compared to “Cypress Grove” or “Child of the City,” two songs Clutch could probably play in their sleep if they were so inclined, “D.C. Sound Attack” seemed particularly new, but they killed it nonetheless, and one imagines that by the time Earth Rocker is out and they come back through with Orange Goblin in tow, the response will be significant.
When they came back out for an encore following “Electric Worry” — a fight broke out in the middle of the song and Fallon called it “boring” — the joke was that it was for “a couple more thrashers,” but with “Animal Farm” from 1995’s self-titled and “Pure Rock Fury,” that kind of turned out to be the case. They ripped through one song and then the next, both are classics in the Clutch canon at this point, and then were gone, offstage just past midnight. It seemed like a fast 90 minutes, but there you go.
By the time I got home about 95 minutes later, I could already feel the cold I’d been nursing come to its full brunt, and though I consoled myself for missing Wino by saying I’d catch him in Brooklyn with Mondo Generator and Saviours as their tour continues following the end of the Clutch holiday run, I left work early on account of feeling like crap and now know that’s not the case. So it goes. But though I spent Dec. 31 in full-on dead duck mode, hopped up (down?) on NyQuil and barely conscious, I still feel like I sent out 2012 in high spirits for having seen Clutch one more time before hanging up the new calendar.
Extra pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.