Words by: Cal Roach | Images from: myspace.com/clutchband
Clutch :: 08.06.09 :: The Rave :: Milwaukee, WI
I wound up with an extra ticket to the show, and wondered aloud outside The Rave if any of the assembled stragglers wanted it. A spindly security guard stink-eyed me and said, "I wouldn't do that." I said, "What, give away my extra ticket?"
"It's not allowed," he said, almost sternly enough to prevent me from stifling a laugh. But I knew better; at The Rave, piddly amounts of power are exercised to their fullest extent, so I kept my mouth shut and handed my extra off around the corner out of sight. So, keep in mind that The Rave's official policy is that you're not allowed to give away your possessions on their property.
Once inside, I was dismayed to learn that Baroness had canceled the remainder of the tour due to a family emergency. Opener Lionize came out to a decent crowd and busted into some very groovy hard rock. I'd damn near forgotten the term "stoner rock" for a few years, and then along comes Lionize. The addition of keyboards and the emotive, John Popper-esque vocals of Henry Upton make this variety even more stoner than usual, not to mention the abundant reggae flourishes. Upton has just enough soul, and drummer Mel Randolph has just enough finesse, to make it work, but the whole production sounded a little too much like Nazareth on drugs, which wouldn't be so bad if there hadn't already been a Nazareth. I was hoping they'd be amazing so I could justify buying one of their kick-ass shirts, but I couldn't do it.
Clutch came on with the nebulous growl of "Motherless Child," from their new album, Strange Cousins From The West (released July 14 on Weathermaker Music). Now, I expect bad sound at The Rave, but this is the first time I can recall the sound being worse for the headliner than for the opener. Going to shows here always makes me wish I could just bob my head in appreciation of the great songs the band is playing and ignore the fact that if I didn't know them I'd just be hearing bass thuds, metallic static and growls. It's a travesty to hear a singer of Neil Fallon's caliber reduced to a series of grunts and howls in The Rave's echo chamber. Nevertheless, I'll report on what I could decipher...
They busted out their big hit, "Immortal," almost immediately, gettin' all Danzig wit' it, and then the classic "Child Of The City" before busting out a couple more new tunes, "Struck Down" and "50,000 Unstoppable Watts." The new stuff fit snugly in with the band's diverse catalog, continuing on the increasingly bluesy trail Clutch has been treading recently, which oddly enough brings these guys a little closer to the stoner rock that they could never be defined by, yet often get credit for helping to create. "Texan Book Of The Dead" harkened back to Fallon's old, more percussive vocal style and the more obvious Captain Beefheart influence. Another track from 1995's self-titled release, "I Have The Body Of John Wilkes Booth," followed, and this got completely lost in the muddy sound, along with "The Regulator." Dammit.
"Sea Of Destruction" was okay, and then a short drum solo becomes the invigorating "Burning Beard," creating a visceral momentum that made it possible to enjoy the show briefly, but the set stalled with "Let A Poor Man Be" and "The Mob Goes Wild," one of Clutch's rare generic songs. "La Curandera" was only amazing in my head; the room completely sucked all the life out of it. The climax of the set wasn't far off, though: "Electric Worry," a ZZ Top-meets-Queens Of The Stone Age dynamic workout that kept coming back for more, was entertaining even through the haze. "One Eye Dollar" and "Mice And Gods" just had no impact in closing the set out, and the encore of "Who's Been Talking" and "The Elephant Riders" just made me wish we were in a better venue.
The setlist was brilliant, and if past experience is any indicator, the playing was stellar, but it might as well have been Wolfmother as fronted by Aaron Lewis doing a Kermit The Frog impression, as far as what reached my ears.
Clutch tour dates available here.
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