Welcome to a rainy night in north London where we’ve gathered to witness the beginning of the end. Clutch‘s “Earth Rocker” tour, which started here last year, has come full circle and ends a very good year for the Maryland veterans.
The rain, plus the dearth of decent pubs in the area (The Bull & Gate the latest victim the crisis affecting our pubs) has pushed lots of punters into the venue early enough to catch support act Lionize. Matt Davies recently reviewed their new album “Jetpack Soundtrack” on this very site and rightly said that the band share similarities with their tour buddies, but it isn’t anywhere as obvious or as crass as you might think. These guys hail from Maryland like Clutch but there is more of a southern, Muscle Shoals rhythm and blues influence evident, especially in the keys of Chris Brooks and the vocals of Nate Bergman – a bear of a man who’s lung busting soulful roar brings to mind titans of the genre like Joe Cocker. They do wallow in the same heady stew of American musical influences as labelmates Clutch, blues the commonest touchstone, but the ingredients that bubble to the top in Lionize‘s draught tend to be more singular. They have a straight-up dub reggae number in ‘Sea of Tranquility’ and another that sounds like The Doors with a pulsing Hawkwind-esque bassline. The crowd lap it all up, whatever the particular style, and if the bands songwriting was as good as their musical dexterity they would be world beaters.
It’s not long until go-go classic ‘We Need Money’ by Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers comes pumping from the speakers, signifying the arrival of the band who have recently been described as the heaviest funk band in the world. The crowd begin to groove to the music and that’s the way it will pretty much stay for the rest of the night. First though, a gauntlet is thrown down in the shape of ‘Earth Rocker’ as the band storm into the title track from their latest album. I wouldn’t be surprised if this turns out to be a set opener for years to come what with its declaration of –
“If your gonna do it do it live on stage, or don’t do it at all”.
However, unlike the last time they played here we are not then treated to a run through the entirety of “Earth Rocker”. Instead the band tear through a set of uptempo classics from their back catalogue. For the next hour things are swinging and perhaps surprisingly danceable. Everything from ‘Profits of Doom’ onwards until Neil Fallon straps on a slide guitar for ‘Gone Cold’ sees the crowd swaying and singing, pumping their fists to all those damn catchy songs. Fallon is an unlikely looking frontman for this heavy metal funk party, resembling a mini Brian Blessed with his long black beard, he gesticulates and testifies like a fire and brimstone preacher. In fact, I notice Clutch’s songs are full of religious language; we are exhorted to give ‘amen’s’, and the songs are full of the righteous and the wicked. Seeing the band live brings home just how varied their influences are – from go-go to gospel, blues to metal, country to funk, it all comes to together to become Clutch music, every track very much theirs despite the broad palette of sound. The crowd are suitably nuts for it from start to finish, with no lull in proceedings apart from a drum solo, which also highlights Clutch’s one weak spot. Fallon moves to the side of the stage whilst Tim Sult (guitar) and Dan Maines (bass) jam with John-Paul Gaster and the personality vacuum is immense. The other guys in the band suddenly look like three ordinary blokes rehearsing in a basement after getting off their shifts at Halfords. Barely moving, barely acknowledging the crowd, they seem more like Fallon’s faceless backing band rather than key members of a successful hard rock band.
Luckily their tunes are as engaging as their frontman and we are treated to a veritable greatest hits set; ‘Cypress Grove, ‘The Regulator’, ‘The Mob Goes Wild’, and ends with a manic ‘The Wolf Man Kindly Requests’. The encores include a new set highlight, a cowbell-tastic version of ‘D.C. Sound Attack’ and ends as it often does with ‘Electric Worry’, featuring massive gang vocals from the crowd, and finally ‘One Eye Dollar’.
Clutch are a classic cult band – ignored by the masses but with a sizable devoted following who love them. And I do mean love – the fervor and positivity in the room was contagious. In these times of niche artists and numerous restrictive genres, Clutch are an all-inclusive music holiday that everyone deserves to take.