By Andrew Bansal
[Live photos & video by Carsten Steinhausen]
November 9th 2013, House Of Blues Sunset Strip, West Hollywood CA: Longstanding Maryland rockers Clutch have had a fantastic year so far, with the release of their tenth studio album ‘Earth Rocker’ which has been hailed as being at par with any and all of their past efforts by fans and critics alike, followed by some killer tours to bring these compelling new tunes on stage. Now they are back on a North American headline run to bring Earth Rocker along with some selected older material to audiences across the continent, along with support acts The Sword and American Sharks, both from Austin, Texas. With all three bands having excellent latest albums under their belts, this promised to be a true rock n’ roll extravaganza for lovers of this style of music, and as expected, the House of Blues was sold out in advance.
But before any of these touring acts could take the stage, a local opening band called The Heathens started the show at 7:45 with a 30-minute set which in all honesty did absolutely nothing for anyone in this crowd. Their bland style of rock n’ roll did not fit this package whatsoever. They were far from being the worst band I’ve ever seen, but their music simply wasn’t impressive at all. The crowd grew restless and the room was filled with anxious anticipation as people waited for this band to finish their set.
American Sharks hit the stage at 8:30 and this trio played a solid half-hour of punk-infused rock n’ roll. In my opinion they turned out to be an ideal opening act for this lineup, as their music comprises of elements that can be found in The Sword and Clutch tunes. Their self-titled debut is only 19 minutes in length, and the same concise, to-the-point vibe was brought to the stage and that’s what made their set enjoyable more than anything else, the quick transition from one song to the next. The placement of the drum kit right at the edge of the stage, mainly due to the space constraint resulting from Clutch’s gear already set up in the background, made their sound come across with an added degree of power. The crowd’s response towards this band was not unanimously positive, but I for one really dug their show. Their frontman tried to indulge in monologues between songs but this crowd was simply not willing to listen. People were talking ridiculously loud amongst themselves and it was hard to even hear what the poor guy on stage was saying. Nonetheless, good set by American Sharks, well and truly fitting in as a warm-up to The Sword and Clutch.
The Sword began their set at 9:20. This was a long-awaited set for me personally as I hadn’t seen them since 2011, and missed out on all of the tours they did post the release of their stellar latest album ‘Apocryphon’. I thought it was easily one of the best releases of 2012 and had high expectations from the live versions of these tunes. The Sword sounded great on the instruments last night, which wasn’t a surprise, but frontman JD Cronise’s vocals just weren’t up to par on this occasion. I’m not sure if he was sick or simply tired from the touring, but he sounded extremely weak on the vocals and it ruined the impact of a sizable portion of the 40-minute set, which was a bit disappointing to witness. The Sword is not known for having incredible vocals in any case, but even then, because of the sub-par vocals, their set was enjoyable at best, and didn’t exactly compel me to ‘lose my mind’ as I was expecting it to. Aside from the vocals, I thought the much slower rendition of the tune ‘The Hidden Masters’ as compared to its studio version didn’t sound right to me, and I felt it should have been played at its regular tempo. Another flaw was the lead guitar part played over the main riff of ‘Veil Of Isis’, which doesn’t exist on the studio version. It took away from the impact of the riff, I thought. But with all that said, perhaps only ardent fans of the band would have noticed these flaws, and I’m sure it was just an off-night because I’ve seen The Sword ‘crush it’ every time they stepped on a stage in the past. If you’re attending any show on this tour, most definitely get there early to catch The Sword.
1. Arrows In The Dark
3. Cloak of Feathers
4. Tres Brujas
5. The Hidden Masters
6. Maiden, Mother & Crone
7. Lawless Lands
8. The Veil of Isis
The Sword photo gallery:
After a long wait, at 10:35, a song called ‘We Need Some Money’ by Chuck Brown started playing on the PA and got the crowd bouncing and singing. The song faded away and the four members of Clutch appeared one by one amongst loud cheers from this crowd which was more than ready by now. They opened up with the title track off of ‘Earth Rocker’, the absolute perfect choice to begin the set with. Ever since the album released, I imagined this song to be the ideal opening song for a live show, and I’m glad the band agrees. Of course, the live version was better by several notches as frontman Neil Fallon gave it the visual aspect with his tremendous stage presence and the sheer intensity in his facial expressions. They stayed on Earth Rocker for a few more tunes before digging into the older material, but the majority of this performance was focussed on this latest album and they played the entirety of it over the course of the 90-minute set. Songs like ‘Crucial Velocity’, ‘Mr. Freedom’, ‘D.C. Sound Attack’ and ‘Book, Saddle And Go’ sounded massive and the fans were loving these as much as any of the older songs.
There were some tender moments as well, with songs like ‘Gone Cold’ arriving at an appropriate part in the set. For the songs where Neil donned his guitar, the sound was naturally richer and lent an extra dimension to the band’s already incredible sound. Clutch sounded so clean yet so earth-shatteringly massive, it was a display of artistic mastery from this group of four fantastic musicians. I won’t get into the exact set list because Clutch change it up every night and if you’re attending a show on this tour you won’t get the same set anyway. Besides, the set list doesn’t matter at a Clutch show because the manner in which the band performs these songs, it’s nearly impossible for a fan of heavy music to dislike any part of the set.
Clutch photo gallery:
Aside from his stage performance and presence, Neil Fallon won over this crowd when he made his frustration with crowd surfers clear and instructed the security staff to throw them out, no questions asked. He said he hates to see people in the front few rows trying to enjoy the show and getting hit in the back of their heads by crowd surfers, and I have to agree with him. Other than that he didn’t really waste too much time in monologues or crowd banter, and the show was purely about the music, as is always the case with Clutch. They ended the main set, then came back out for a two-song encore and waved goodbye with a huge ‘thank you’ to the crowd for their attendance.
Overall, Clutch’s ‘Earth Rocker’ certainly rocked this part of the earth. The band was as good as anyone and everyone expected them to be, and if anything, with these new tunes their live shows have become even better than ever before. If you get a chance to see Clutch in your town, do not miss it at any cost.
Check out this pro-quality video of Clutch performing ‘Electric Worry’ and ‘One Eye Dollar’ at this show:
Remaining tour dates:
11/10: San Diego, CA @ House of Blues
11/11: Sacramento, CA @ Ace of Spades
11/13: Grand Junction, CO @ Mesa Theater & Club
11/14: Denver, CO @ Ogden Theatre**
11/15: Wichita, KS @ The Cotillion
11/16: Columbia, MO @ The Blue Note
11/17: Bloomington, IL @ The Castle Theatre
11/19: Joliet, IL @ Mojoes
11/20: Madison, WI @ Orpheum Theatre
11/21: Ft. Wayne, IN @ Piere’s
11/22: Columbus, OH @ The LC Pavilion
11/23: Detroit, MI @ The Fillmore Detroit
** The Sword not on this date **