Clutch Heat Up New Jersey 12-28-17 w/ Devin Townsend Project & The Obsessed

It should come as no surprise that beloved Rock band Clutch hails from suburban Maryland. Long considered the southern end of the North, and the northern tip of the South, the Old Line State is stuck in a tug-of-war between the gritty cities and posh suburbs of the Baltimore/Washington corridor and the rolling hills of neighbors Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia. Extending this identity crisis to their musical output, Clutch nonetheless shifts effortlessly from the Punk, Go-Go, and Rock-n-Roll of its major urban centers to the country and Bluegrass of its rural surroundings, always with crisp musicianship and meandering, intelligent lyrics.

Clutch writes hard, tours hard, and performs hard. That in mind, their effort and engagement at the tail end of their month long 2017 winter tour could easily have passed for the first night on the road when they visited Starland Ballroom in Sayreville, New Jersey on Thursday, December 28th.

DC outfit the Mike Wescott Band, featuring Clutch Drummer Jean-Paul Gaster, had just joined the tour the night before and got the event rolling, before giving way to longtime Clutch neighbor Scott “Wino” Weinrich. The legendary Doom vocalist/guitarist took the stage at the helm of his revamped and refreshed The Obsessed lineup. The band itself may have periods of dormancy, but Wino himself never took a breath, juggling between name acts like Saint Vitus, Spirit Caravan, The Hidden Hand, and Shrinebuilder, in between short-bursted The Obsessed reunions.

Speaking of which, next up was The Obsessed fresh off the release of their new album, Sacred. Their first release of new material in over twenty years, the grey frontman, Vocalist/Guitarist Scott “Wino” Weinrich, drugged and dragged the crowd through a wide assortment of early tracks. Along with Reid Raley on bass and Brian Costantino on drums, Wino held the attention of the crowd immediately and used it to visit old standards “Tombstone Highway” and “Brother Blue Steel,” digging back to the band’s 1990 self-titled debut and sophomore follow-up, 1991’s Lunar Womb.

Moving along, a brisk detour to 1994’s The Church Within brought “Streetside,” after which the set slid newer material right alongside the old, particularly “Be the Night” and the title track “Sacred,” before the needle moved back to The Church Within and its offerings “Streamlined” – a quick ride with Motorhead – and “To Protect and Serve” – a rapid anthem that gives way to wailing guitar – before saving what seemed to be their longest song of the night, set closer “Neatz Brigade.”

A wonderful memory from 2017, Clutch toured the country with Primus this past summer; the pairing was so painfully organic that Clutch was tapped for a one-off appearance opening for Primus at the newly christened Anthem in DC, two months (to the day) before this show at the Starland Ballroom. Playing the wacky role of Primus this night at the Starland Ballroom was Canadian outfit Devin Townsend Project. Led by the eponymous madman, the band had quite a task paring down the vast catalog to fill the “fifty minutes” he quoted to the crowd – Townsend boasts over twenty studio albums to his credit released under several different identities.

Generally careful to not mix his main projects, Devin Townsend Band, Devin Townsend Project, and solo man, as well as the longer-after Strapping Young Lad, Townsend wasted no time breaking into his latest Project offering, 2016’s Transcendence, playing the first three songs in rapid succession: “Truth,” “Stormbending,” and “Failure.” Mixing in banter about his toilet habits and love of Cheetos (the two may be related), he then reached back to “Night” from his Ocean Machine era. Speed turns to dirge and back again, whilst the man moves his guitar from Heavy Metal to near Symphonic Rock, and his voice from growled death to operatic calls to action.  

The crowd favorite, “Supercrush,” came through, sadly (though not surprisingly) without the magical vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen as had been the case a few tours ago. Alien alter-ego Ziltoid made a brief appearance for “March of the Poozers,” a quirky descent into hell, before moving into “More!” from 2012’s Epicloud. In keeping with habit, Townsend closed with “Kingdom,” an early track which resurfaced on Epicloud. After thanking the crowd rather crudely, the band made their exit, putting on another great performance led by the one of a kind Devin Townsend. 

Sold out with a week to spare, the venue was thick with humans well into the earlier sets, and the wait for Clutch was about to end. The crowd passed the time biting their nails until, finally, the PA offered “We Need Some Money,” the bootleg Chuck Brown song Clutch has used as an opener for decades. Quickly taking the stage, the band ripped into “Dragonfly,” a warm tale with carpet-ride riffs toting the rites of spring and helping thaw the dark souls of the crowd, most of whom had arrived to the club with temperatures stuck below freezing. Coming from Elephant Riders, the band’s mid-nineties memorial to the Battle of Antietam (and a brief tap-dance with major label success), the track also set the tone for Neil to soon announce that some “old school shit” was on the way.

The sermon continued with “Burning Beard,” a cloaked dagger aimed at religion, business, and the shuffling of sheep. Though a new album is rumored to be in the can, the band fell back and pulled liberally from Psychic Warfare, their 2015 effort, starting with “Firebirds!” and moving to “Noble Savage,” with its wickedly wild guitar trip, and “A Quick Death in Texas,” with crowd favorite “The Mob Goes Wild” from 2004’s Blast Tyrant squeezed between.

The crowd at Starland skewed as ageless as the headliner, every teenager or twenty-something on the floor was matched by a nuclear family of four, mouthing lyrics exactly. Their loyalty was rewarded with liberal doses of the band’s 1995 self-titled not-quite-debut album, Vocalist Neil Fallon stepping deftly around the abrupt vocal changes of “Escape from the Prison Planet” before channeling late-night Sci-Fi with screams of “Jesus on the dashboard” within “Spacegrass.”

Reaching even further back into the catalog with “Passive Restraints,” the band settled into a quiet groove, over which Fallon again poked the crowd, for a roll call of “old-school fans”… before launching into the live debut of new track “SMS” and its sibling “How to Shake Hands,” both likely destined for the new Clutch record which the band will start recording in January.

The new material was well-received by the veteran crowd, and their patience was further rewarded with two dusty gems, the loopy “Big News I” and the fast-paced bruiser “A Shogun Named Marcus,” a track obscure enough to send the crowd dipping to dangerous lows for head-banging and lip-syncing. Fast-forward to the more recent “D. C. Sound Attack,” peppered with harmonica and cowbell, the lyrics imparted the sad realization that more than an hour had passed, and the time for Clutch was short: “well, sugar, I howl at the moon” let the audience know “party’s over / you all got to go / the wolfman is coming out.”

After a brief respite, the band broke into two of their most reliable encores: the solid cadence of “Electric Worry” and its call-and-response chorus – “vamanos!” – followed by “X-Ray Visions,” the pseudo-title track of Psychic Warfare which has closed many a Clutch show since the album’s release over two years earlier. Their crisp set left the crowd elated, and the band’s thanks for the welcome reception and sold-out venue were genuine. Never a band to sit still for too long, once the new album is done later this year, another tour will start and the houses will be packed again for Clutch! 

Photo credit: LDO Photography

Purchase Psychic Warfare:

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Purchase Transcendence:

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Purchase Sacred:

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