Jam Central Station: Clutch – 12.31.16 – The Agora Theatre – Cleveland, OH
Despite seeing hundreds of shows throughout my life, I have surprisingly never gone to a New Years Eve show. It takes a lot to get me to go out on “amateur night,” and I don’t have much of a desire to brave the roads with the folks who do go out for a night like New Years or St. Patrick’s Day. However, when I found out that Clutch(!) was playing at the Agora on New Years, I knew that I had to check that out. Clutch has consistently been one of my favorite acts to follow, both live and studio, for years. Great hard rock riffs, clever lyrics, and the refusal to be boxed in to any single genre or style makes Clutch one of the most interesting and impressive acts around. I was excited to see what they would bring to the table for a NYE show, and the band certainly didn’t disappoint.
The band kicked things off in a fast-paced way, leading with a pair of energetic songs from their 2013 album Earth Rocker. “Cyborg Bette” and “Crucial Velocity” both feature fast but catchy riffs and plenty of opportunities for vocalist Neil Fallon to get the crowd excited. The early standout, however, was drummer JP Gaster. Playing his mismatched 4 piece kit, JP proved that great drummers don’t need more drums. He exemplified the hallmark of great drumming, taking a simple riff and changing it every time he went through the pattern just enough to keep your ear tuned into what he was doing. After the fast start, the band went into the older tune “The House That Peterbilt,” a song that exemplifies their slower groove-rock sound. They followed with another throwback song with “Passive Restraints,” which was their first single all the way back in 1992. Still, it fit in well with everything else, and the band showed that they can still go back to their more hardcore/punk roots.
They moved back to some new material with “Sucker For The Witch,” “Noble Savage,” “The Face,” and “Quick Death in Texas.” Fallon owned the stage for this run, moving all over the stage and showing tons of energy. Despite being a 4 piece with Fallon only playing guitar sporadically for the 2-guitar sound, the band was able to achieve some excellent depth to their sound. The riffing of Tim Sult and the interplay of the rhythm section (and the fact that bassist Dan Maines is unafraid to venture up and down the frets of his bass) give the band an excellent full sound. That being said, I was impressed with Fallon’s increasingly solid guitar work. He’s gone from an occasional rhythm player on bluesy songs like “Gravel Road” and “Electric Worry” to a guy who can add some really interesting elements to faster paced songs as well. He showed that with his playing on “Quick Death in Texas,” where his riffs really moved the song.
The actual “New Years” run of the set started after “Quick Death in Texas.” The band brought out percussionist Mike Dillon to sit in and headed into a 4-song run that lasted nearly a half hour with no breaks. A groovy version of “The Yeti” went into a nice jam including some great interplay between JP and Dillon before the band found Maines deep in the pocket. They grooved things all the way into the New Years countdown. They thankfully skipped the traditional “Auld Lang Syne” and dove into “DC Sound Attack!” It’s not easy for heavier bands to pull of seamless segues, but Clutch did it here with no problem. Another percussion jam came out of the tune, this time with Neil joining on on the cowbell for a bit. Maines eventually found his way into the bass riff for “Big News I” and the band followed suit nicely, leading into a great version of the classic tune. They ended the run with “Frankenstein,” and finally gave the band a second to breath after an epic run.
Fallon picked up the guitar again as the band launched into “The Regulator.” This is a personal favorite of mine and one of the band’s best written tunes, a dark tune with western influences that are always surprising to hear coming from a decidedly east coast band. The band nailed the mood of the song perfectly with a great build up into the chorus after each verse. The main set closed with “50,000 Unstoppable Watts,” one of the heaviest songs off of their very bluesy Strange Cousins From The West album. They came back for a two song encore, segueing their biggest hit “Electric Worry” directly into “X-Ray Visions.” They even pulled off a nice fakeout and had me convinced they were going to go into “One Eyed Dollar,” the song that typically follows “Electric Worry,” but the switcheroo was well done.
I’ve seen Clutch a dozen times, and I’m yet to see them put on a bad show. They’re a band that attracts diverse fans because they have such diversity in their music. They’re not and have never been a one trick pony, and they have the tremendous talent to make whatever it is that they’re trying work well. Couple all of that with one of the most exciting and energetic frontmen around and you have a band that has earned every big of success they’ve gotten. My first Clutch show was from their “Evening With Clutch” tour where they played a full 2-set show. The only thing that would make me enjoy a Clutch show more right now would be if they would bring out that two-set format again. They have so many great tunes to pull from that they would have no problem filling a 25 song show and still mixing up the sets every night. If you’re a jam band fan looking to branch out into the hard rock world, there’s no better place to start than with Clutch.
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