In Upstate New York, it is that special time of the year again. Time for the leaves to change, the nights to get colder, and Clutch to return to the area. For much of their 24 years of playing, they have managed to always make Upstate a stop on their tours. Good thing too, because this area absolutely loves the band and comes out in droves to witness their pure rock fury.
Upstate Concert Hall, the premier club in the area to bring acts like this around consistently, was on point for this show. Their great security staff kept the patrons safe, the fine bartenders kept everyone’s thirst at bay, and the stage crew kept the whole thing running smoothly. Without establishments of this calibre, audiences would not be able to see so many great acts come to their town.
First up for the night was American Sharks from Texas. A three-piece consisting of a bassist/vocalist, guitarist and drummer, they took the stage to an already half-packed room at 8:00 PM. Before exploding into their first song, the singer told the crowd he was betrayed, and with tongue in cheek, said that he was drinking vodka instead of water all night. This was a good gauge as to the type of fun the band had on stage, and the infectious riff-rock music they played. Hints of Alice Cooper, Motorhead, and Red Fang permeated their sound, and the audience ate it up. Driving guitar and bass riffs helmed each song, short and sweet at about two or three minutes in length. The drummer was the most mesmerizing, hitting his skins like a crazed caveman, then walking away from his set after each song to stare it down, eager to beat it into submission on the next one. At one point, the atmosphere was like a zombie prom, or a romanticized punk rock show, with groups of people feeling the grooves and infecting nearby fans to dance and sway with them. The fast-paced rock was peppered with trippy instrumental nuggets, giving a big, full sound from the band. “We have a few more warm up songs before we get to the set” the singer would say from time to time, gaining chuckles from the audience and increasing the good vibes of the show.
Lionize hit the stage next, a stellar act off of Clutch’s label, Weathermaker Records. In fact, their sound was very parallel to Clutch, with big groovy hooks and funk riffs, littered with a commanding vocal presence. Some songs made use of reggae-esque timing and vocals, while other songs produced full-on southern metal assaults. They were a contrast from American Sharks’ two minute sonic attacks, as Lionize played longer epics that were full of sound. A little bit for everyone, bouncing between burn-up-the-road heavy jams to introspective, keyboard-heavy, funk ballads. Relying heavily on their newest album’s material, they delighted the now almost-packed house of Upstate Concert Hall with their musical prowess.
With the lights down and a rowdy backtrack song ushering Clutch onstage, the crowd was whipped instantly into a frenzy. A fast four count from their drummer Jean-Paul Gaster broke directly into set opener, “Cyborg Betty”, off their new album Earth Rocker. Neil Fallon picked up his mic and slid right into his onstage preacher persona, gesturing madly at the audience with each cadence. They easily had the best sound of the night, and possibly one of the best sounding stage performances ever at this venue. A straight four-piece band, fans were able to pick out the guitars, bass and drum riffs with ease from wherever they were in the tightly packed room. By the time the band hit “Crucial Velocity”, both in song title and in intensity, the crowd was mere putty in Clutch’s collective hands. A brand new song was unfurled at this show, and possible a few others on this tour, and Neil belted out “Decapitation Blues” with poise and determination that seemed like they had been playing it for years. It featured the first full on guitar solo of the night, and Tim Sult’s expertise washed over an already incredible array of sounds.
I was lucky enough to be backstage before Clutch went on, and heard Jean-Paul warming up like a well-wound clock. It showed on stage, too, because coupled with an epic bottom floor held down by Dan Maines, is a tight-as-nails rhythm section that is unparalleled in this type of music. Screaming “Fire it up, Yeah that’s the ticket now kick out the jams” as they launched into crowd favorite “Mice and Gods” reflected exactly what was happening that night. The crowd was full of happy faces, all mesmerized by the sheer brilliance of the heavy, powerful rock and funk that was being bestowed upon them. At times Neil would chew his jaw like a grandfather telling you an important story, or he would get more worked up and anoint the crowd with his microphone. If you have never seen Clutch live, it is an experience akin to something almost religious, as you feel better afterward like you could take on anything. The ethos of the band are summed up perfectly in the title track of “Earth Rocker”, as he sings “If you are gonna do it, do it on the stage, or don’t do it at all.” This isn’t a band that uses backing tracks or loops. They produce all the high-octane intensity directly in front of the audience, no smoke and mirrors. There was no signs of slowing down an hour into the set either, as they brought out acoustic guitars, with Neil on a beautiful hollow body for “Gone Cold”. Finishing out the night with a two song encore and giving props to the two openers, Clutch proved, once again, why it is always a treat to see them in Upstate New York.
Clutch will be on tour throughout September, check their website for dates and tickets.
Setlist: Cyborg Betty, Book Saddle and Go, Crucial Velocity, Burning Beard, Decapitation Blues, Mob Goes Wild, Mice and Gods, Profits of Doom, Power Player, I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth, The Yeti, Texan Book of the Dead, Unto the Breach, Earth Rocker, Cypress Grove, Gone Cold.
Encore: D.C. Sound Attack, Electric Worry