10th July 2013
Come showtime, the thick heat of a Mancunian summer looms over us like a bullying teacher. Adding further challenge to the crowd’s endurance levels is the fact that esteemed Maryland quartet Clutch arrive in the form of their lives, surfing the rampant waves of praise for latest album Earth Rocker – possibly their best ever release, certainly their most direct.
The band walk onto the stage to be confronted with a sold-out venue (the gig already having been upgraded from the nearby Academy 2) and a roaring crescendo of delirious audience noise. “Good god, look at all these people!” growls Neil Fallon, seeming genuinely quite taken aback , but breaking into the new album’s title track is as effective a way of seizing the evening by the scruff of the neck as any. The band have always attracted praise from their peers and the rock press while retaining a medium-sized cult following. Tonight is somewhat startling evidence that they’ve shifted ahead a gear or two. Every song is greeted with delirium, even when dropping down to the moody acoustic Gone Cold , and while it is a long-established tradition that a Clutch set-list changes every night and pays little heed to expectation, tonight they play all but one track off Earth Rocker and it doesn’t seem any sort of gamble or gimmick at all.
Preacherman Fallon and drum deity Jean Paul Gaster are characteristically heavily bearded, less in rock style than in mountain cult leader fashion, while the studious flanking duo of Tim Sult and Dan Maines seem to be regressing in age, looking ever more like a pair of diligent teenagers. The fact all four have been playing together for a couple of hard-touring decades is reflected throughout. Few bands combine such effortless musicianship with evident intelligence, groove and pure rock fury.
Nods to more long serving followers are only occasional – Elephant Riders gets a rumbling outing, 50,000 Unstoppable Watts generates a memorable audience singalong of “anthrax, ham radio and liquor”, while a set-closing Electric Worry predictably raises the venue temperature to near-fainting levels. To then further pile-drive an encore of Mob Goes Wild and A Shogun Called Marcus seems almost cruel under the circumstances.
It’s a recurring complaint that too many of today’s new bands arrive without any dues paying, depth or long-term commitment. As true as that may be, tonight is thrilling witness to a band ascending the ladder of success before our eyes by virtue of hard work and plain, evident brilliance. Gentlemen, we salute you.
All words by Rob Haynes. More writing by Rob on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive.