TVD Live: Clutch at Rams Head Live, 4/20

One of the most common questions people ask if they’ve never heard Clutch is “What kind of music do they play?” A knee-jerk response might be to label them as “stoner rock” or just “rock,” but Clutch is so much more, near impossible to put a label on.

Most of the time, the number one answer given is, “They sound like Clutch.” With an eclectic, never-duplicated sound that draws on many different styles and influences and makes it uniquely their own, Maryland’s heroes returned home to Rams Head Live in Baltimore on Saturday, to preach their gospel to the bearded masses.

First up for the night was Austin, TX retro-rockers Scorpion Child. When I say retro-rock, I mean it in every sense of the word: vintage clothes, vintage instruments, and the music, while played very well, seemed like an amalgam of any number of bands you’d hear on a classic rock radio station, with Led Zeppelin being the biggest flavor running through their sound.  Singer Aryn Jonathan Black sounds like Robert Plant mixed with Billy Squier, and he and the band have drawn many comparisons to Zeppelin in the press.

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate Scorpion Child – these guys can play. It’s just that every time I started to get into a song, I couldn’t help but feel like I had heard it before. With the talent these guys displayed, I would love to hear them come into their own and distance themselves from the obvious comparisons. Hopefully they will flourish and show us the first coming of Scorpion Child rather than the second coming of Led Zeppelin.

Up next on the 4-band bill was Silver Spring, MD’s Lionize. The reggae-rock fusion quartet started off their set with a heavy, funky, soul groove that got the crowd moving. Vocalist/guitarist Nate Bergman was a human rollercoaster, bringing it down smoothly where it was needed, and exploding into a roaring clamor at the drop of a beat. Keyboardist Chris Brooks’ organ oozed throughout the music, providing a fluid undercurrent to the groove.

The rhythm section combo of drummer LaMel Randolph and bassist Henry Upton laid down the funkiest backbeat, in perfect syncopation, paired up like musical Siamese twins. As the set went on, they were joined onstage by longtime collaborator and Clutch guitarist Tim Sult, and after a jammy interlude on “Strange,” things kicked into high gear on “You’re Trying to Kill Me.” “LionClutch” was then joined onstage by Orange Goblin guitarist Joe Hoare, and like Voltron coming together, formed the “LionClutchGoblin” superjam of the night, playing an extended version of “Trustafarian.” Seeing guys from three different bands onstage for one song, and playing together so flawlessly, was truly a testament to their musicianship.

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After a brief break for the packed house to refill their glasses and catch a breather, the lights went down, the intro music began, and the metal juggernaut that is London, England’s Orange Goblin stormed the stage. Singer Ben Ward, at an imposing 6′ 5″, looked like Rasputin had returned from the grave . Ward rallied the crowd like a barbarian leading his horde into battle, and the monstrous sound from the stage led you to believe that was exactly what was going down.

They started things off with the Lovecraft-inspired “Red Tide Rising,” and went right into “Acid Trial,” both off of 2012’s Eulogy for the Damned. From the moment his fingers touched the strings, bassist Martyn Millard may have possibly morphed into Chewbacca, because all you saw was a manic flurry of movement and hair as he played. His playing style definitely brings to mind names like Geezer Butler and Cliff Burton, and his ability easily earns his name a place among those elite. Drummer Christopher Turner beat out a rhythm like the drums owed him money, and guitarist Joe Hoare was exceptional, delivering heavy riff after heavy riff.

After “Round Up the Horses,” OG were joined onstage by members of Scorpion Child to help out with vocals on “Some You Win, Some You Lose.” For “Time Travelling Blues,” they were joined onstage by Chris Brooks from Lionize on the organ. The camaraderie between the bands on this tour was refreshing, to say the least. Charging like a freight train through their set, Orange Goblin delivered the metal to the masses with “Freelance Fiend,” “Quincy the Pigboy,” and closed their set with fan-favorite “Scorpionica,” all met with roaring approval from the crowd.

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The smoke breaks were taken, drinks were refilled, private needs tended to, and the time had finally arrived. Clutch was back in Maryland, and the crowd went wild as the sound of Chuck Brown’s go-go anthem “We Need Some Money” played from the speakers, with the crowd responding to Chuck’s call-and-response, bellowing “money money money” along with the Godfather.

As the song ended, Clutch took the stage with little fanfare. You may not get pyros, laser light shows, and massive stage sets with this band, but what you will get is one of the best musical rock performances of today, period. Opening the set with “Crucial Velocity,” “Book, Saddle and Go,” and “Cyborg Bette,” all from their latest album, Earth Rocker, these would set the tone of the show.

Singer Neil Fallon is one part frontman, and one part manic preacher, delivering the gospel of rock to the eager crowd. Guitarist Tim Sult, always displaying a zen-like calm as he plays, paints a masterpiece every night—the guitar his brush, the amps his canvas. The grooves of bassist Dan Maines are like the lifeblood flowing through the veins of every Clutch song. When the opening bass line for “Spacegrass” begins, the number of fans playing air bass increases dramatically. If Maines’ bass lines are the lifeblood of the songs, then the drumming of Jean-Paul Gaster is the strong heart of the band, beating perfectly with every hit. If you have never seen JP work his magic behind the kit, then you are truly missing out on one of the greatest drummers not just in rock, but in music today.

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While most of the audience was having a great time, maybe not everyone approved, or maybe alcohol clouded their judgement, but at one point in the set, someone on the second tier of Rams Head Live decided to throw a cup full of ice at Neil. Without missing a beat, Fallon sang on, then promptly sauntered to the side of the stage nearest the offender, and threw up two crowd-approving middle fingers at them. The offender managed to get one more cup thrown at the stage before being found and shown the door by venue security.

Playing songs old and new, from “Mob Goes Wild” and “Cypress Grove,” to “Earth Rocker” and “DC Sound Attack,” which had Neil wailing on the harmonica and beating the cowbell in a go-go rhythm, the packed house got crazier and rowdier, so much so that Fallon shamed a few people who went a little too far in the pit for “doing the pushie and the shovie…I don’t like that.”

As the set went on, playing more songs off of Earth Rocker (7 total off of the album) the crowd was enthralled, and as they mixed in older songs like “Dragonfly,” “Burning Beard,” and “Escape from the Prison Planet,” you could see the joy on people’s faces, and many singing along with every word. Clutch is well known for changing their setlist nightly, so there are no “predictable” Clutch shows. The set ended with the hand clappin’, foot stompin’ “Electric Worry,” the whole venue singing along with “Bang-bang-bang-bang, vamanos, vamanos!” As they went into “One-Eyed Dollar,” it had become a full-on revival. With the crowd yearning for more, Clutch returned for an encore and ended the night with “Pure Rock Fury” and the ferocious “A Shogun Named Marcus.”

Clutch is referred to by many as the hardest working band in rock, and Saturday at Rams Head Live just served to back that statement up. If you have never seen them live, I can’t urge you strongly enough to change that and make it happen, as soon as possible.

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LIONIZE:

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ORANGE GOBLIN:

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Photos: Julia Lofstrand

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  • http://www.dallton.com snake_gtr

    cool stuff

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