Words & Photography by Paul Boyling
Clutch, hot on their heels from the release of their latest studio album, ‘Book of Bad Decisions’ (from their own label, Weathermaker Music), with their penultimate UK show at O2 Academy Brixton being incredible. The last time I had seen the band was at their sold-out show at the Roundhouse in late 2016 (as part of their ‘Psychic Warfare’ Tour), and much like that show, the Maryland-based rockers (and even the support acts) didn’t disappoint.
The first band onstage was Inspector Cluzo, an eccentric duo of French farmers-turned-“musiciens politiques”, with ‘Malcom’ (guitar and vocals; real name, Laurent Lacrouts) and ‘Phil’ (drums; real name, Mathieu Jourdain), offering a unique fusion of blues, funk and hard rock (“sans bass player”). The pair were dynamic on stage, with Malcom thrashing about – Phil, at one point, upturned his drum kit and continued to bash it on all possible sides and configurations whilst gradually diminishing – both intercutting insights and thoughts of the current “Gilets Jaunes” phenomena as well as the ongoing Brexit debacle in between songs. Nonetheless, the crowd was fully behind them.
Next were The Picture Books, another two-piece, but from Germany. The pair, Fynn Grabke (vocals and guitar) and Philipp Mirtschink (drums) unleashed a more, hard rock / garage rock smörgåsbord to the former, but with equal stage presence and gravitas. Both thrashed about on stage, their long hair writhing about, with Philipp in particular being a like a man possessed as he relentlessly bashed his kit with all manner of drumsticks, beaters and percussion hammers (as well as jingle bells).
Both of these supports were the finest proverbial accoutrement to Clutch, whose quality and energy were lapped up by the crowd and were on par with the headliner themselves. That being said, Clutch came on with no hesitation or introduction, and went straight into their set as soon as the lights came on; only emboldened by their bald eagle backdrop.
The appeal of Clutch is immediately apparent: their unique blending of hard rock, stoner rock, blues and funk metal, perpetuated by frontman Neil Farron’s captivating vocals – much like a fervent Southern preacher – demand, and earn, your full attention; immediately possessing you during the opening tracks, ‘H.B. Is in Control’ and ‘50,000 Unstoppable Watts’. Although the band remained mostly stationary onstage, Farron was playful and darting about; his piercing blue eyes and beastly bare-toothed grin locking onto the crowd and pit photographers alike. Furthermore, the band’s explosive energy played loud and proud, with every note and vibration ringing out with precise intensity and clarity; complimented by Jean-Paul Gaster’s stellar drumming, Dan Maine’s groovy bass licks and Tim Suit’s intoxicating rhythms.
Another key admirable quality about Clutch is how they not only change up their setlist every night, but also that they are not inclined to necessarily have said setlist populated with mostly new tracks off the latest album. The band is known for its members alternating their setlist each night, and strictly sticking to it. For example, newcomers ‘In Walks Barbarella’ and ‘Emily Dickinson’ blend effortlessly amongst other fan favourite songs including ‘X-Ray Visions’ and ‘Firebirds’ – the loudest and most intense part of the show, based on crowd moshing alone – as well as the seminal ‘Earth Rocker’ and ‘D.C. Sound Attack!’ The encore quickly followed with the bluesy back-and-forth sing-a-long of ‘Electric Worry’, ending on the hard-hitting climax of ‘How to Shake Hands’; with Farron’s growling emphasis on the verse:
Hot damn! The democratic process
What a time to be alive
Oh, I’m ready to give the people what they want
And what they want is straight talk and no jive!
And the chorus:
Thank you very much
I couldn’t have done it
I couldn’t have done it without you
Drinks on me!
To whomever in the band chose ‘How to Shake Hands’, it was the most appropriate song to end on that night.
This was my last show of 2018, and all in all, what a show to end the year on. All of the bands gave 110%, but Clutch of course shined above the rest, and proved to not only to be one of the best live bands around, but also one of the most consistent and impressive live bands around.
By Paul Boyling