In the Wake of Clutch in Huntington, West Virginia
Clutch recently came through Huntington, West Virginia, capping off a short run of tour dates to promote the band's forthcoming "Basket of Eggs" project.
I arrived at the V Club just after the first act has gone on stage. The door guy, who checked me for weapons on the way in was happy to chat with me, telling me I’ll never find a seat cause they’ve removed almost all the chairs, except for on the patio, plus the show has sold out, so standing room only may be an understatement. Then I went to the bar, focusing on the opening act, who I was surprised to hear is playing reggae.
Groundscore, a punk/rock/reggae trio from our nation’s capital was laying down the good vibes up on stage. Despite my initial surprise, I was not disappointed, nor do I think the audience of some 100+ people, many packed in front of the stage, were either. I found myself easily slipping into the mellow infectious reggae grooves, the bluesy rock guitar solos, and suddenly invigorated by the bursts of punk jams.
The trio was just on the heels of the their second full length release, "Speed Kills," the title track of which they played to a head bobbing, swaying audience. Groundscore seemed an appropriate warm up act for a hot Sunday evening, the kind of music that is cool for the kids, non-abrasive to parents, just good fun music with positive energy.
Maylene and the Sons of Disaster came on as the second act. The band had an undeniable presence, even with all of them packed onto the little, intimate stage at the V Club. Beards, long hair and guitars everywhere, they wasted no time ripping into their first song, almost forcing the crowd into motion.
Listening to Maylene play, visions of muscle cars driving down dirt roads at break neck speeds come to mind. All energy, shifting into overdrive, then into power riffs, and cruising speed on wide interstate melodies. The dynamic vocalist keeps up with the music; rough and raspy, yelling for emphasis, beard hiding a mouth with surprising range.
These guys seem to have successfully created a blended whiskey of angst, punk, and heavy metal, infused with aged smokey flavors of bluegrass, country, and honky tonk. Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama their sonic aesthetic seemed to resonant with the West Virginians, almost magnetically drawing in late comers from the streets and pulling people in from the patio to watch them play. By the third song the house was packed, by the end of their set you couldn’t move without mauling someone next to you.
Set change. Then the stage lights went out, silence in the house, the glow of the POP screen on the computer at the bar. The crowd overflowed with anticipation, whooping and yelling, cheering the headlining act onto the darkened stage.
On the last show of their nine-date southeastern tour, the lights came up on stage, revealing Clutch. Immediately the band jumped into the hard hitting tune "Big News II," the audience screaming and bobbing, as the bass boomed and the drums tumbled. The second song, "Mice and Gods" from "Robot Hive/Exodus," the crowd is singing along, "FIRE IT UP, fire it up, fire it up, FIRE IT UP, And the Flesh be Damned, FIRE IT UP, fire it up, fire it up, Yeah thats the ticket, Now Kick Out the Jams!"
Clutch ripped into their third song, "Promoter (of Earthbound Causes)," and the crowd kicked it on a couple parts of the song. It was starting to swelter in the club. Burning up the stage with their latest single, "50,000 Unstoppable Watts," the audience was jamming along, heads and bodies banging and bouncing, singing and sweating, “Anthrax, ham-radio, and liquor... Anthrax, ham-radio, and liquor!”
They busted into one of my favorites from "Blast Tyrant," "(Notes From The Trial Of) La Curandera," which the crowd also seems to love as they cheered and yelled and sang along. Tim Sult ripped into the guitar, all energy and Dan Maines was bouncing the bass notes off his finger tips. The band paused after the song for just a minute, Neil wiping the sweat off his face and beard with a towel. Jean-Paul Gaster layed down a fat groove beat as Neil was picking up a guitar to join the rest of the band with rhythm on "Red Horse Rainbows," a song which the people were loving and cheering for, coming to a roar as Sult hits the high pitched notes.
Everyone continued to cheer and sing along on "Ship of Gold." "One of these days the Ship of Gold will carry me to my reward, Out of this world it will take me to hear the horns of Jubilee," just before the wah-laden guitar kicked in for a solo. On the next song, Jean-Paul Gaster is beating a drum intro to the heavy, almost grunge, "Immortal" from the "Pure Rock Fury" album.
Neil was singing, "The devil and me had a falling out, violation of contract beyond a shadow of a doubt," as the crowd goes crazy to the lightning rod tune of "The Devil and Me," which seamlessly segues into the rock’n part of "Gravel Road," singing, "The brook run into the ocean, the ocean run into that deep, deep, deep, blue sea." The mob went wild.
A lull, the band breaths, the crowd silent for just a moment, a moment of confusion, of anticipation. Neil asks, "You still with us?" and then everyone goes ape shit, screaming. Clutch slipped into "Struck Down," from "Strange Cousins from the West," as the crowd screamed on. “Keep calm and carry on, reefer madness quiets the falling bomb.” After the song, the crowd still crazed, Neil humbly says, "Thank you so much," just before they pump out the hard hitting "Pure Rock Fury." "PURE ROCK FURY, THE SOLUTION IS SO CLEAR."
Neil asks the crowd, "What do you want hear?" There’s some shouting, some whispering from up front. The band accepts a recommendation, ripping into the rough, rock driven classic "Animal Farm." The audience is audible even over the band, cheering, yelling, as Neil sings, "Listen up you stinking maggots, it seems you just don’t get it, well I’ve been appointed to inform you, your days are numbered." And when the rock’n tune abruptly ended everyone was still yelling and cheering. Neil thanked Groundscore and Maylene and the Sons of Disaster for coming out, for playing, for getting everyone hyped up.
Then he’s telling everyone the next song was written in West Virginia, the other side of the state, but West Virginia, and everyone was cheering to this news, "Behind the Cliffside Inn, I heard a fiddle and a mandolin, keeping rhythm on an old washboard and stomping on the floor." The crowd is cheering, singing, swaying in unity, blending with the sounds of band.
Neil tells the audience they have one more song left, as Gaster is slowly beating out a rhythm on the skins. I didn’t recognize the song, though the lyrics seemed familiar, something about the power of the Holy Ghost, slowed down, acoustic style maybe. Then the band had finished their set, through the yells, and the drum roll and the lead singer thanked everyone. There’s a cowbell coming from somewhere. The audience is chanting, CLUTCH, CLUTCH, CLUTCH, someone yells, “One more!” over the crowd as they start clapping and chanting again, CLUTCH, CLUTCH, CLUTCH, after the band has walked off stage.
After much anticipation Clutch came back on stage. Neil thanked everyone for coming out, before the band broke into their encore. "The Regulator," which seems almost slower than the album version, starts playing. With the spaced out wah-guitar covered in reverb, I think I’m listening to the Doors.
The second song of the encore was from the second disc of the "Blast Tyrant" re-release, an acoustic remake of "Tight Like That," with Neil playing guitar. The song seemed to go on for miles, moving the crowd at a pace the same as Clutch. Tim Sult, stubble headed, body bobbing, was rocking out an expansive solo over smooth bass and drums. The whole band was jamming, slowly letting go of the instruments until the only sound was cymbals, Neil thanked everyone for coming out. The audience was still active, cheering, they wanted more.
Sweating, the band exits the stage, and shortly after the crowd around the stage, around the bar, all dispersed. Within a half hour the venue has mostly cleared, I’m outside with my buddy and the patio bartender, and I’m thinking the spirit of kickass all-American rock’n’roll is still alive and well.
“Amen, do it all again.”
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