CLUTCH ANNUAL HOLIDAY RUN
December 27, 2018 and it’s the kickoff of Clutch’s Annual Holiday Run. Beney Benefiel, and I have been fortunate to cover this event for Outlawreview.com, and to once again receive the support of Doug Weber at New Ocean Media, who represents Clutch. Doug reminded me that Outlawreview.com has covered Clutch often this year. So I thought quite a bit about what I would write, and what could make this different from the typical show review. I thought about how Beney just got off a five show tour, and gave me a full on tour diary, of every show he had been to. What could I possibly say to add to, or be different than someone who has followed Clutch for twenty years, and who is an exceptional professional photographer, and someone for whom I have been so fortunate to work with? I thought about my own experiences with Clutch, and I tried to answer the question why Clutch? What is it that makes us obsessed with this band?
It goes without saying that the Baltimore show was epic. I generally tend to shy away from the word epic, as it’s over use in popular media today, tend to lessen the impact of that word. So let me shed some light. I recently finished a year end reflection piece where I listed my top shows that I attended this year, and had I attended this show before writing that, the piece would read much differently now. Clutch would have instantly pushed their way to number one, with this show; and would be well within the top ranks, of my top five concerts; of a lifetime. Clutch beating legendary performances out for that rank in my book, like Social Distortion and Bruce Springsteen, and their own show at Earth Rocker this past year, with Black Label Society. Those who know me, know how much those shows meant to me. This show was indeed, EPIC!
Regrets are having to work, and not getting to the venue early enough. Every part of me wanted to be at the Gearhead get together hosted by Kenny Divel, and to meet the many loyal Clutch followers; many of which who traveled through several states, and countless miles to be there. What I have come to know of Clutch is that they generate a life time, loyal following, and create a family environment, forever forging a lasting comradery, amongst their fans. I am more than ever excited for Earth Rocker 2019, as I hope that with the aid of Beney Benefiel we can document the many stories of this group, and perhaps capture the essence of what makes it so unique. This group for me rival the heyday of the “Dead Heads”. Clutch has a way of bringing people together, from many walks of life, and the vibe is difficult to describe from other Rock fan groups.
For me, Clutch is the band that pulls you in, they make you recognize other bands a long the way, and appreciate music even more for having experienced one of their shows. They often bring with them opening acts which are up and coming, and highly talented. I thought about my own life experiences seeing Clutch. Clutch was the first band to pull me back hard into the music scene, a return many years in the making. Having spent years as a fan listening to albums at home, by happen stance, on an outing with my husband, I saw a poster for the first Shindig Festival in Baltimore. I had strayed from being active with music, raising my son, doing family things, and just being a mom. However, this struck my attention, there was something about the poster, and well, it was Clutch. So we decided to attend the show. I still remember standing in a crowd of people, in Carroll Park, in Baltimore, Maryland; everyone in unison chanting Clutch, Clutch, Clutch!! The anticipation, we just knew Clutch was about to blow the roof off the pavilion, and the crowd, like wild animals were ready, in an instant, to let loose, my heart was racing… and I can say the band did not disappoint.
It was no consequence that the next year this became my son’s first concert, at the age of six. The environment brimming with Gearheads, and their families was a chill atmosphere, a free spirited vibe, where everyone was friendly, and music and art were celebrated. This was a place where my son could enjoy live music for the first time. He still remembers his first Clutch show. Years later, at age eleven, he has seen them at least four times, by now. We have made Earth Rocker at Shiley Acres, in West Virginia, a yearly family event.
This is the kind of band that bring people from all over together, from state to state, and social media alike. I was fortunate to meet the acquaintance of William Spruce, a fellow Gearhead who happened to have an extra show ticket. I met William in one of the Facebook groups dedicated to Clutch. William gifted my family that ticket, and we were able to bring my husband’s friend Cody to the show. A working father, and music fan who seldom is able to get out to see a show, with young children at home. For Cody he had followed the music of Clutch, and been a fan for a few years, but had never seen them live. Cody was about to enter a whole other dimension.
It began like this, Cody works with my husband Greg. Greg pulled up, in his car next to Cody one day at his job at the marina, Clutch is blasting from Cody’s speakers. Greg says to Cody, “What do you know about Clutch?” Instantly this sparked up conversation, and the next thing you know, we are sharing our love of their music with him. Clutch just has that power. As someone who has been a lifelong music fan, and Clutch fan, it is one of my greatest joys to share with someone music that I love. The Baltimore Annual Holiday Run was the perfect Clutch show for just that. Not only did you get Clutch full force, but opening for them Lionize, and The Mike Dillon Band, for which some of the members come together to form what die hard Clutch fans have come to know, as The Small Upsetters. The Small Upsetters feature Chris Brooks on keys, and Mike Dillon on vibraphone, and all members of Clutch doing what they do. I tormented Cody about The Small Upsetters giving him this as a sort of homework assignment if you will, to see how devoted of a fan he was. I teased him about knowing who they were, and he humored me with his Google attempts to answer that.
The night opened with The Mike Dillon Band, a phenomenal musician in his own right. Then Lionize followed, and they blew me away, my only complaint was that their set time was not long enough, most likely scheduling of the venue not Lionize themselves. Let’s face it I just wanted to hear more. Both Dillon and Lionize, who have worked with Clutch often, and for which they have influenced each other’s music, all came together like a group of college buddies doing a jam session; an extremely incredible jam session, by extremely talented musicians, I must add. Then ex Fugazi members came together to induce the crowd into an instrumental trance, with The Messthetics. However, during The Messthetics set the crowd grew anxious, rocking on their feet in anticipation, willing, with their minds almost for time to speed on, to get to the main event. The Messthetics were amazing but people were just antsy for Clutch. Every move from roadies and techs setting up the stage only heightened that anticipation, hearts beating in tune to people around me chanting Clutch, Clutch, Clutch! Then the moment we all were waiting for, the lights dim, everyone has their eyes locked on the stage.
Clutch takes the stage, and rips into “Weird Times” and the crowd goes crazy. The mob goes wild, and as they move from “Weird Times” through “How To Shake Hands” and into “The Mob Goes Wild” the crowd is off in a frenzy of dancing, and rocking, and some even moshing to the beat, of that intense groove riff mixed with a bit of Funk, psychedelic undertones, and down and dirty Rock N’ Roll. The crowd craves more. My eyes are glued to the stage at this point. Clutch flows from “Ghoul Wrangler” to “Earth Rocker” to “Crucial Velocity” boom, boom, boom the hits keep coming, the crowd is amped, the energy is high, and Neil and company are all at their best. Neil is energetic, a live wire on the stage, moving about, putting himself into every song. He jokes with the crowd, he is a charismatic force commanding his stage; a magician with his band of musical sorcerers moving the crowd song after song.
The venue is filled to the brim, three rows packed literally wall to wall with fans; as the show is sold out. The floor is a buzz with people, with as much space as we all had to move, we still moved together in a trance commanded by the almighty Clutch. The first balcony row above us was lined completely, and the one above that filled. A rare treat for diehard fans Clutch moves into “Open up the Borders” after a few more songs are played. Fallon and company play close attention to not only play new hits like “Barbarella” off their “Book of Bad Decisions,” the most recent album released in 2018; but they take it all the way back to 2001’s, “Pure Rock Fury” with the performance of that song. Longtime fans go nuts, and newcomers get a musical education in the classroom of Clutch, on what exactly is good music. Cody, who as I mentioned earlier seeing Clutch for the first time is getting highlights from all over the discography of Clutch. No better show to bring a new fan to, then one where some of the best highlights are played spanning throughout a bands career. He is having the time of his life, and I just smile, as in unison the crowd chants the lyrics along with Fallon. Cody is taking it all in with a big grin. The same big grin I remember my son having, at his first Clutch show, with his face pressed to the fence, at the Shindig years ago.
At about this time, Clutch rips into “Elephant Riders”, followed by “Emily Dickenson” followed by “10001110101” by now it is all the crowd can do to contain itself. Clutch also played one of my personal favorites “Cypress Grove” almost bringing the house down. Then they go into the song for which every fan new and old knows, “Electric Worry.” We are all chanting, “bang, bang, bang, vamanos, vamanos” in rhythmic succession, and Neil whips out “1Eye$,” and Clutch makes the crowd believe this is the end of the show. Clutch leave the stage, and everyone who “knows” knows that this is far from over. Neil comes back, he teases the crowd with, “Did you think that was it?”
The crowd can no longer control itself by this point,” what else could he come out with?” we ask ourselves. The evening has featured all of the best songs. Songs with which Chris Brooks from Lionize has stepped in, and Mike Dillon to back Clutch up, songs from all over their more than 20 years of music history. And then, “Lorelei” comes bounding out, the new heavy weight contender to “Electric Worry” as if Clutch could never completely step outside of the shadow of “Electric Worry,” in the eyes of the masses, “Lorelei” proves to challenge all that, off their latest album. The crowd is electric and energized on every riff, hanging on every word. Then Clutch tumbles in another one of my favorites “D.C Sound Attack”.
So why Clutch, what is it that gives them their power? Is it the driving beats, and ferocious drumming of J.P Gaster propelling each song on, is it the chunky bass hooks of Dan Maines giving each bass lick just enough of that funk and groove? Is it the Bluesy, down and dirty, forever rocking riffs of Tim Sult? Is it the hovering between incredibly genius, and almost insane, lyrical quips of Neil Fallon; his vocal mastery; or stage presence as the front man? Is it the entire band’s way of commanding the stage like Groove Rock warlocks incanting a spell over the crowd with their infectious song? Is it their roots in the Washington D.C and Southern Maryland music scene, or their history, or how they treat their fans? It is all of those.
If you survey the crowd the answer is always going to be slightly different, but one thing that all Clutch fans can agree on, from the newcomersto those who were there in the very beginning right out of the garage, it is how they make us feel! You leave a Clutch show high on life, feeling ten feet tall and rocking, and that feeling is like no other in the world, something which is as the slang goes “CLUTCH AF!”