On the road for over twenty-five years, Maryland’s rockers Clutch have carved out an incredibly successful career through constant touring (up to 150 shows a year); outstanding studio albums; a fervent, dedicated fanbase; and a well-deserved reputation as one of the top live acts in the world. Amazingly, having released their debut in 1993, their two most recent albums, 2013’s Earthrocker and 2015’s Psychic Warfare, have been crowned their best-selling. Earthrocker reached #1 on the Billboard Hard Rock Album chart, #6 on the Rock Album chart, and #15 on the Billboard 200 while Psychic Warfare hit #1 on both the Hard Rock and Rock charts, #2 on the Independent chart, and #11 on the Billboard 200.
Prepared to hit the road this summer alongside Primus, prior to that, they picked up a short run of shows which kicked off May 10th down in North Carolina. A quick fix for fans looking for more Clutch, the bill would include The Sword and Lucero as they continue up the East Coast before wrapping up in West Virginia on May 20th. That in mind, what is a Clutch tour without a stop in New York City? Well, on Monday, May 15th, the guys came down to Brooklyn to host an evening at newly launched venue Brooklyn Steel. Located in the eastern portion of Williamsburg, Brooklyn Steel opened its doors in early April with a five night run from LCD Soundsystem. Featuring an industrial look, the former steel factory, the layout allows for excellent views anywhere on the floor. Compelling within itself, a packed crowd shuffled inside to christen the venue’s floor with the one and only Clutch as the band played tracks from their new album while also reaching all the way back to their 1992 EP, Passive Restraints.
Opening the evening was Austin, Texas’ The Sword. The band’s 2006 debut, Age of Winters, was a powerful collection of retro styled ’70s Hard Rock, Proto-Metal, Doom, and Heavy Metal. Releasing an unplugged edition of their 2015 album High Country in 2016 with Low Country, The Sword brought fuzzy guitars as well as smashing drums to Brooklyn Steel, laying the foundation for tales of medieval times, wizards, witches, and the like.
With John D. Cronise on vocals/guitars, Kyle Shutt on guitars, Bryan Richie on bass/synthesizers, and Santiago “Jimmy” Vela III on drums, they opened with “Mother, Maiden, Crone” off their sophomore album, 2008’s Gods of the Earth. Another swampy, heavy effort, they then went into “Arcane Montane,” from 2012’s Apocryphon, which reached the top five or better on four Billboard charts. Cloaked in an even more Doom-like sound than early Black Sabbath, the track featured chunky, muted riffs that were juxtaposed with whirling solos.
Moving on, the groovy “Tears Like Diamonds” showed that The Sword can bring the southern boogie with Pop Rock leanings as well as they can the hard and heavy. Sounding like the bastard child of John Fogerty and ZZ Top, the band delivered a perfect mix of Swamp Rock, Blues, and straight up Rock-n-Roll. An extended musical jam allowed the band to show off all the styles they grew up on as they meandered styles. Then set closer “Empty Temples” found the band dabbling in yet another genre as they dealt a dazzling Psych Rock jam that featured twin guitar melodies sprinkled with blistering solos and an overall atmosphere echoing the Summer of Love.
For “On My Way Downtown,” Lucero seamlessly blended Honky-Tonk with Punk attitude for a roller coaster ride of twang and angst. Lastly, the set closer, appropriately titled “The Last Song,” was a blast of mid ’60s American Garage Rock with a touch of the British Invasion. Aggressive vocals and screeching guitars closed the set with a bang. The band exited the stage to thunderous applause as the crowd eagerly awaited headliner Clutch to do their thing.
Keeping the energy high, “Sucker for the Witch,” from Psychic Warfare, proved to be a frenetic romp with wicked soloing from Sult. Spanning from Puritan America to the height of ’70s Rock-n- Roll, the inventive lyrics told the tale of a heathen as Fallon belted out, “I can tell you precisely where this all began/Salem, Massachusetts and I was hardly a man/I fell madly in love with some brand of Stevie Nicks/Oh, I begged and I pleaded like a fiend for a fix.” Bringing the speed and fury up another notch, “Earthrocker” followed with breakneck heavy Rock. This is before “Son of Virginia” allowed the band to catch its breath with its Country Blues sound. One of the band’s longer tracks at over seven minutes, it told the harrowing tale of nasty weather, unknown creatures, cemeteries, and a man questioning his place and worth. Throughout the song, over the melody, guitar solos added a lush sound, before a feedback soaked outro.
Reaching back to their self-titled album, the next two cuts, “Escape From the Prison Planet” and “Spacegrass,” proved to be a pair of relentless Hard Rock teeming with psyche elements. With Dan Maines on bass and J.P. Gaster on drums shining bright, they laid down a pounding rhythm on “Escape From the Prison Planet” as Fallon, ever the showman, stormed back and forth like a southern preacher spinning a wild yarn about aliens, government cover ups, and interstellar travel. Thereafter, “Spacegrass” opened with an ominous, pulsating rhythm punctuated by heavy toms on the drum kit. The first two verses were delivered spoken-word style before exploding into a straight up Heavy Metal onslaught.
Keeping the set interesting, the title track from 1998’s “The Elephant Riders” found Clutch touching on U.S. history with tales taken from the Revolutionary War, all told over thick, fuzzy power chords, a pounding bassline, and explosive drumming. Reaching even further back, they moved toward 1992 EP Passive Restraints, playing the title track, showing their hardcore roots and love of local legendary act Bad Brains. Since the release of that EP, the band’s sound has touched on numerous styles, but their upbringing in the D.C. Hardcore scene from the ’80s was apparent.
“Unapologetic lifer for rock and roll!” was the refrain on “Noble Savage.” Interestingly enough, during recording of the track, the original title was “Motorhead,” and it was clear why. Breakneck guitars, muscular vocals, and a crunchy rhythm zipped along at a ferocious pace. Finally, set closer “The Wolfman Kindly Requests” had Clutch dabbling in jam band territory whilst still delivering their always intriguing, brilliant lyrics, and propensity to rock as hard as anyone. A slinky lead on guitar, classic Blues phrasing, and a heavier than all outro encompassed everything that makes Clutch so endearing to Rock fans of all types.
Having the audience chanting for more, after a brief break, Clutch returned to play “Electric Worry,” a fan-favorite that is part of the encore set most nights. A stop and go Blues tune with loads of wah-wah guitar, non-stop soloing, and plenty of southern twang, Show closer “X-Ray Visions,” from Psychic Warfare, was the perfect ending to the evening. It was pure Rock fury at its best. Menacing, hard-driving, no-nonsense Rock-n-Roll cemented the fact that despite fans and critics constantly trying to pin a label on Clutch, the fact is, they are really just a top notch band, nothing more, nothing less.
One hell of a night, Clutch are off to Europe, but as stated, will be back in The States for a string of shows in July and August, covering America from coast to coast with Primus. All this in mind, if balls out Rock-n-Roll with pounding rhythms, creative, intelligent lyrics, along with bass and drums combo are your thing, do not miss Clutch when they come to town.
Photo credit: Ken Buglione Photography