Review by Paul Castles, photos by Lisa Billingham
It seems highly unlikely that the dubious attraction of Birmingham City’s latest ‘must win’ home game to try and maintain their Championship status deterred many heavy rock fans from venturing along to the Academy on a balmy Tuesday evening to catch Clutch. While the venue was reasonably full it wasn’t the armpit sweating cauldron that we’ve become accustomed to of late when heavy-hitters such as Gojira, Lamb of God and Machine Head have been in town.
Clutch appeal to a more diverse audience than a strictly metal fanbase. If there was a common denominator then it was beards – and in particular the bold and bristly big ones as favoured by Clutch’s enigmatic frontman Neil Fallon. But before the whiskered wonder we were treated to guest act Lionize who, like the headliners, hail from Maryland.
This four-piece made a favourable impression with the majority of the crowd, although I have to be straight up and say they weren’t really for me. Lionize have quite an eclectic sound, that brushes alongside funk and jazz while retaining an overall heavy rock beat. Synth player Chris Brooks adds an extra dimension but at times I found some of the keyboard antics a tad indulgent. The extended whiny instrumental sections did seem to grant the chattering classes licence to catch up with the day’s news, suggesting I wasn’t the only one left feeling slightly detached. Singer Nate Bergman came across as quite a likeable fella but his harmonies with Brooks seemed a little flat.
The lights went out as the familiar funk restrains of ‘We Need Money’ signalled the arrival of Clutch now performing firmly at the peak of their powers after 15 years. Without hesitation the stoner soldiers crashed straight into ‘Earth Rocker’ the title track from last year’s highly acclaimed album, their tenth. Earth Rocker is a cracking collection of songs full of great hooks and riffs and not surprisingly their latest material made up around half of their set.
‘Unto The Breach’ and ‘Book Saddle and Go’ quickly followed, with frontman Fallon engaging with the fans with his customary eccentric hand gestures. Fallon is very much the focal point with Clutch leaving Dan Maines curled over his bass and Tim Suit to craft some seismic rhythms on guitar. Clutch caught up with their past on material such as ‘The Mob Goes Wild’ and ‘Profits of Doom’ and the Maryland mob also showed their softer side with a couple of superbly crafted ballads.
Fallon picked up his guitar for the first time of the night for ‘The Regulator’ and with the lighting switched to a deep red, the cleanly picked notes at the start conjured up images of the sticky atmosphere of the swamplands in the deep south. No less impressive was the majestic ‘Gone Cold’, with Fallon’s vocal prowess again given the freedom to reach every corner of the room.
Clutch invited Lionize synth slicker Chris back on stage for ‘The Face’ which is one of the finest tracks on Earth Rocker with its great sweeping emotive chorus. Bowing out with 2004’s ‘Cypress Grove’, Fallon skilfully mastered an instrument that resembled a rusty old exhaust pipe until research later revealed that it was in fact a cowbell. By way of showing off his musical dexterity, the Clutch dynamo turned to his third instrument of the night when puffing like a dragon on his harmonica at the start of monster encore opener ‘DC Sound Attack!’.
By the time they launched into final number ‘Electric Worry’ Clutch were performing to a sea of clapping hands. A few miles down the road at St Andrew’s the Blues were losing again. At least at the Academy the Blues were alive and kicking and in safe hands with Clutch.
1. Earth Rocker
2. Unto the Breach
3. The Wolf Man Kindly Requests…
4. Book, Saddle, & Go
5. Crucial Velocity
6. Cyborg Bette
7. Burning Beard
8. The Mob Goes Wild
9. Profits of Doom
10. Pure Rock Fury
11. Mice and Gods
12. The Regulator
13. Gone Cold
14. The Face
16. Cypress Grove
17. D.C. Sound Attack!
18. Electric Worry