Among die-hard Clutch fans, a label which describes most Clutch fans, it’s common to hear the slogan: “Clutch is Church”. The sentiment comes from a deep connection with the band that develops after you see them the first couple times and start sharing memories with people that orbit around their music and shows. There’s something nuanced about why this band generates such loyal fanfare and it can’t just be a consequence of the sound. Having made funky alternative metal blues boogie rock for the last three decades, Clutch’s sound keeps progressing with every album. With this tour coming off the heels of their latest 2018 record Book of Bad Decisions, they seem to be moving into a more rock and roll direction and keeping their alternative metal side more hidden. I don’t mind the change because in today’s musical climate, no other band flies the blues rock flag prouder than Clutch, it’s an important style of rock and roll that must be preserved and Clutch is not only refusing to let it go by the way side, but is expanding on the sound.
Combining this blues style with songwriting about science fiction, B-movies, fast cars, conspiracy theories, and true unabashed American attitude, Clutch is perhaps the sound of America in 2018. We can all come together around this music, so long as we believe in fucking freedom. So let me rephrase what I just wrote, Clutch is the sound of freedom in 2018.
I have seen the band many times and each show makes me just as excited as the last. I’ve seen them with best friends, ex-girlfriends, and alone. Even though I’ve yet the hear the one song I’ve been craving (“10001110101”), I always leave more than satisfied.
Clutch brought along two phenomenal acts to open for them on this touring church of revelation, the first being Tyler Brant and The Shakedown. Blues rock with an extra punch gave the El Rey a hometown flare, like we were transported out of the hipster, vegan, politicized climate of Los Angeles, to the barbecue-eating, fireworks-launching, tobacco-chewing, gun-totting, barn-raising, heart of America. The set was structured with a slow burning build that climaxed with an aural meltdown of rhythm, groove, and shredding guitars as The Shakedown shook the rafters.
This tour is a double dose of 90’s heavyweight alternative metal with none-other than Sevendust as direct support under Clutch. With plenty of haze and backlighting to set the mood, Sevendust’s ripping nu-metal gave them the presence of an early 2000’s horror film, with all the trimmings. Lead singer, Lajon Witherspoo,n carries anthemic melodies that make everybody and their mother want to raise their fists and sing. Meanwhile, he looks absolutely menacing with the amount of energy and passion he’s terrorizing a stage with. I’m not necessarily the biggest Sevendust fan, I can’t name the hits, but I can tell when music moves people and by the looks on the faces of the people that came for Sevendust, they were having emotionally transcendent experiences.
Tonight’s sermon would focus heavily on the new material, the latest gospel of truth delivered by these awesome four originals of Clutch. Book of Bad Decisions was unapologetically the majority of the set but it wasn’t one of those concerts where you wished a band would play the old shit. Instead, Clutch found a way to make their new shit come off like classics. Songs like “Gimme the Keys”, “In Walks Barbarella”, “Emily Dickinson”, and “How to Shake Hands” were just as much highlights of the set as “Crucial Velocity”, “Electric Worry”, and “Escape From the Prison Planet”. Now the next time Clutch tours with another new album, people will be hoping to hear those songs, just like we were hoping to hear songs off their last album, Psychic Warfare. And that wish was granted with “A Quick Death in Texas”, “Firebirds!”, and their closer “X-Ray Visions”.
Making the audience wait a hair longer for their encore than most bands would, truly testing our loyalty, Clutch returned after a short break to play “Earth Rocker” then bust out the cowbell finale with “D.C. Sound Attack”. By the end of the show, it began raining inside the El Rey but not with water. It rained down five dollar bills with the face of Bill Hicks on the front, winking like he was either keeping a secret of the universe or trying to wish us good luck in our fight against the man.
Words by: Robert Shepyer
Photos by: Jessica Moncrief