Live Review: Clutch in New Hampshire, 10.26.13

It was the first night back on the road for Clutch vocalist Neil Fallon after having back surgery little over a month ago — also his birthday — and for the band, the kickoff to the latest round of tour dates in support of earlier 2013’s stellar Earth Rocker (review here), so even as far as Clutch gigs go, this one was something of an event. The big mystery was whether Fallon would be able to have the same kind of mobility as a frontman so soon after going under the knife, or if he was ready to be on stage. I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise that Clutch showed up to the Casino Ballroom in Hampton Beach, New Hampshire, ready to roll in their usual pro-rock form, but it was certainly reassuring.

The Casino Ballroom is a sizable space. Wider than it is long if you’re facing the stage, you walk upstairs on either side and the high ceiling, box seats, and open floorplan mark it out immediately as a room with some years. Along the walls are names and dates of people and bands who’ve performed there. It went back to Duke Ellington, and also had Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Nirvana, George Carlin, and so on. Big names in a big room. As they have for several years now, Clutch entered to Chuck Brown and the Soulsearchers‘ “We Need Some Money” following the direct support from American Sharks — The Sword are also on the tour, but didn’t make this date presumably because it was rescheduled from September on account of the surgery — and within minutes, laid to rest any concerns for their wellbeing. Clutch was just fine.

Adrenaline had to be a factor in that — I’m sorry, but you don’t get a major medical procedure and go on tour five weeks later 100 percent recovered — and Fallon would get visibly stiffer as the show went on, but performance-wise, even later set inclusions “D.C. Sound Attack” and “The Mob Goes Wild” were delivered both with vigor and laser-point accuracy. Guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster had some rust to shake off initially as well, but with the more vigorous material from the latest album to do so, they were hardly through the Earth Rocker title-track and into “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” from 2009’s Strange Cousins from the West before they seemed locked in, and the setlist continued, as when I last saw them in May, to draw largely the new record with about a 50/50 split of that and everything else.

No doubt the ability to change it up is an advantage of having 10 albums under their collective belt, and cuts like “Profits of Doom” from 2004’s Blast Tyrant, “Escape from the Prison Planet” from their landmark 1995 self-titled and “The Elephant Riders” from the 1998 follow-up of the same name were welcome alongside Earth Rocker full-thrusters like “Crucial Velocity,” “Cyborg Bettie” and “Book, Saddle and Go.” The Earth Rocker tracks — shorter, crisper, leaner and less jammy-feeling on the whole than those of Strange Cousins from the West or the preceding LP, 2007’s From Beale Street to Oblivion — go over exceedingly well in the live setting. That’s been the experience for a few years now, as album closer “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” has been a regular for a while, but it’s especially true of the faster songs. As engaging as the dynamic display of a Clutch jam is — and it is — they made the turn to a more stripped down feel at just the right time, and their fanbase from what I’ve seen at the shows has responded with due excitement.

That was definitely the case at the Casino Ballroom, anyhow. The bars on either side had long lines, and if you were the type to, say, wear sandals in late October, then almost certainly you’d have beer spilled on your feet by the time the show was done (fortunately I avoided the issue with some beat-ass old sneakers I keep on hand for such occasions and/or snow), and any vision you might have of watching awkward beardo dudes boogie down, you can be sure that vision would be fulfilled by “Elephant Riders” or “Book, Saddle and Go.” For me, any night I get to see Clutch play “The Regulator” from Blast Tyrant, I consider myself as having won (at life), and this one was no exception. Watching the let’s-ride-this-cowbell-part-for-a-while take on “D.C. Sound Attack” move into the quieter blues of “Gone Cold” was an interesting shift as well, and only showed the four-piece’s ability to manipulate the vibe at will. Now it’s a party — now it’s that lonely time after the party when you’re picking up bottles from the lawn. Fortunately they have some of heavy rock’s best and funkiest grooves to tie it all together.

And to that end, indulge me as I take a second to admire the workman’s heavy lifting that Dan Maines does playing bass in this band. Gaster is an inventive, deeply creative drummer, and Sult loves his wah, his starts and stops, and as Fallon goes off in madman-preacher mode in “The Face,” it’s Maines‘ smooothness anchoring the song and keeping the motion forward. He’s never showy on stage, but his contribution is essential to Clutch being the force they are, and that was all the more apparent as “The Mob Goes Wild” gave way to “The Wolfman Kindly Requests…” and “Electric Worry” to close out the night, Bryan “Uzi” Hinkley of Tree coming out for a guest spot on guitar. First night of the tour, Fallon looking a little rough by the end — though again, his voice sounded great — Clutch showed that whatever hiccups might’ve come their way, they were nothing more than that, and that their momentum coming off Earth Rocker will continue as their train keeps a’ rolling for who knows how long and to who knows what destination.

A quick encore was had with “A Shogun Named Marcus” from 1993’s Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes and Undeniable Truths full-length debut (which makes a fitting-if-gritty companion for Earth Rocker), and sent everyone back out into the cold Friday night. Hampton Beach is indeed a shore town, and though it was dark, I could smell the salt of the ocean on the cold wind blowing from across the street. At least I think that’s what it was.

More pics after the jump. Thanks for reading.


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3 Responses to “Live Review: Clutch in New Hampshire, 10.26.13”

  1. Mike H says:

    Feeling slightly bummed out for having missed the show as I read the review. As I knew, I would.

    It is good to hear Neil and Co. were in form.

    I was right about Brian Hinkley. Of Tree though? Didn’t know.

    No reviews of the other bands…? Did you miss them?

    • American Sharks were on when I got there. Not much to say with what I saw, so I figured I’d keep it focused on Clutch anyway.

      And yeah, Bryan Hinkley was in Tree. Currently in Never Got Caught, who may or may not have opened the show.

  2. goAt says:

    Oh man, I saw ALL the opening “bands”…by the time CLUTCH came on I was drained!!! It’s nice to know that when I go to a show in the area, I can look forward to a review on here.

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