Monday, July 23, 2012

Return engagements: Why I'd see Clutch 20 more times

Watching Prong rip through a blistering opening set Friday at Amos' I wondered how many times I’d actually seen headliners Clutch. Given that Clutch was the favorite band of both my high school boyfriend, my husband, and a couple friends, my Clutch-count surpassed any other band’s a long time ago. My number hovers around 18 or 19. 

Clutch became more than a boyfriend band once I saw them live for the first time at Tremont Music Hall in 1996. It was the song “Texan Book of the Dead” that won me over. I found singer Neil Fallon’s (pictured above with guitarist Tim Sult and below) ridiculous lyrics “E-I-E-I-O” and “Bee-Bop-A-Loo-Bop….” hilarious. It was heavy and intense, but not lacking a sense of humor.

I bought a copy of the self-titled album at work a couple days later. From then on any time anyone said, “You wanna go see Clutch?” I did. While living what seemed like light years away in Tempe, Arizona in 2001, watching them as I awkwardly huddled beside a steel barrier to avoid the chaos of the pit, I almost teared up when Fallon who was wearing WVU ball cap introduced “Soapmakers” with “This song’s about the great state of West Virginia.” In my desert isolation it was as if old friends had come to visit.

While there are bands you see once and are ok to never see live again, there are others that draw the same faces over and over. I saw many of the same people Friday that I’ve seen at Clutch shows since the late `90s. It seems like a reunion - my babysitter, her ex-boyfriend, her roommate, my husband’s band mates, best friends, and former co-workers. The drummer from that old boyfriend’s band actually brought his 14-year-old from WV while a friend and her ex were seeing Clutch for the first time. The audience is still growing.

Some came to witness veteran metal band Prong who plays again August 2 at The Fillmore with Static X. Leader Tommy Victor led a fiery set that included “Beg to Differ,” “Unconditional,” “Rude Awakening” and the new single “Revenge…Best Served Cold” (from its new disc “Carved Into Stone”). It ended the brief set with the crowd pleaser “Snap Your Fingers, Snap Your Neck.”

The crowd that gathered at the front of the stage for Clutch hasn’t changed much since the `90s. They sang along intently, arms flailing, pointing and punching the air, jumping up on the barrier while shouting the words to “Escape from the Prison Planet” and “A Shogun Named Marcus” late in the set just as Clutch fans have been doing since 1995.

Even though so many of us have seen them twenty or thirty times, no one seemed disappointed in the hour and a half set. There was a time after that first show that I'd wait impatiently to hear “Texan Book of the Dead” again (six shows before I heard it a second time live!). I'm ok without it now.

I was pleased with “Cypress Grove” and oldies like “The Elephant Riders,” “Prison Planet,” “Spacegrass,” and “Marcus” are always welcome. The show began with “Freakonomics” from its latest (but still not new) album “Strange Cousins from the West.” The mood fittingly escalated on the second song “The Mob Goes Wild.” It, like “Shogun,” “Animal Farm,” and “Book,” sound written specifically for a wildly, thrashing crowd.

“Electric Worry,” which has enjoyed wider appeal due to its use in a commercial for the video game “Left 4 Dead 2,” ended the regular set. For many years Clutch didn’t encore, but Friday it welcomed opening act Lionize’s keyboardist Chris Brooks to the stage to add organ to “Motherless Child” and “10001110101.”

Speaking to friends as the crowd dispersed one said it was his favorite set list since he was a teenager. Another, who was so over Clutch a week before and only decided to attend last minute due to “peer pressure” (ha), was seen frolicking at the front during “Mob” and admitted afterward that he’d be back if just to witness the subtle percussion mastery of Jean Paul Gaster. I know I’ll be back too. There’s something about the combination of that heavy, masculine rock and deep, familiar bluesy grooves - it's hard rock you can dance to. 

I will say that following the “Dark Knight Rises” shooting I watched Friday’s show differently than with the sort of carefree mind I saw the Killers with the night before in Asheville. I was reminded of the horrific 2004 murder of Pantera/Damageplan guitarist Dimebag Darrell. More than once Friday I looked around to find the best place to duck if a crazy person started shooting. That’s not something that entered my mind Thursday night. Still, I never really considered not going. It’s sad and scary that you may not even be safe in such a joyful environment as watching your favorite band or being one of the first to see a new blockbuster, but the realization is you never know when you’re truly safe when violence can erupt at school or work or at the grocery store. I guess, as paranoid as events like Thursday’s can make us, we can’t avoid them out of fear.