There are some bands that you might not be otherwise familiar yet, but then you see them live and you totally get what all the fuss is about, and that said performances just kinda stick with you forever. Clutch, for me is one of those bands. We’re rounding the corner of two decades since the very first time I saw the Maryland-based quartet (at the 1997 HempFest in Boston alongside Tree and Sam Black Church, if you’re interested), and the second they took the stage at Lupo’s Heartbreak Hotel in Providence, I was immediately transported right back to that place in time.
Now a lot has obviously changed over the twenty years since (not the least of which are hair color and waistlines, and I’m specifically referencing myself). Clutch’s sound has evolved to become a little dirtier and swampier; they’ve always been a solid live band, but now they’re downright explosive. were a solid live band back then; they now qualify as a premier live act. Drummer Jean-Paul Gaster serves as the anchor to the whole ship. Gaster plays loud, explosive style but has achieved a certain level of transcendence at his craft that he almost looks effortless; like Lebron James toying with Serge Ibaka and the Raptors in the last round of the NBA Playoffs. Tim Sult (lead guitar) and Dan Maines (bass) stay rooted to their respective sides of the stage, leaving supremely dynamic frontman Neil Fallon to roam the stage like an animal stalking his prey. Fallon is a frontman’s frontman and plays the role brilliantly, at times oscillating in performance appearance from motivational speaker to manic cult leader to all out banshee. The band launched into their sixteen song main set with “Crucial Velocity” from 2012’s Earth Rocker, while the bulk of the remainder of the main set drew primarily from their most recent album, Psychic Warfare. Longtime crowd favorite “Electric Worry” (you know, the “vamonos, vamonos” song) kicked off the two-song encore in frenzy-like fashion.
Lucero provide direct support on this leg of the Psychic Warfare tour, a bit of a change of pace sandwiched in between Clutch and “warlock rock” openers The Sword (whom I admittedly didn’t shoot or catch much of). As a longtime fan, this marked the first time I’d caught the Memphis-based quintet in an opening role after having seen them headline venues equal to (or even somewhat larger than) Lupo’s. The abbreviated (50 minutes) set in front of a Clutch crowd (and let’s be honest…Clutch fans are CLUTCH FANS) meant that Ben Nichols and the boys eschewed the acoustic portion that’s crept increasingly into their sets in recent years and focused mostly on uptempo tracks. “Can’t You Hear Them Howl,” the lead single to the band’s last album (2015’s All A Man Should Do), kicked off the set, and from that point forward the band forged ahead in all business style, covering such live staples as “On MY Way Downtown,” “Nights Like These,” “I Can Get Us Out Of Here Tonight” and “Here At The Starlite” in the process. A personal highlight was Nichols’ unaccompanied (unless you count a double shot of whiskey as an accompaniment, which I guess you could), a cappella rendition of his track “Last Pale Light In The West,” from his solo EP of the same name. Nichols joked that tracks like those that he based on Cormac McCarthy’s historical novel Blood Meridian were about all he could come up with for lullabies for his soon-to-be year-old daughter. Nichols was then rejoined by the rest of the band (Brian Venable on lead guitar, Roy Berry on drums, a particularly unanimated John Stubblefield on bass, and the inimitable Rick Steff on keys/accordion) for a rousing version of show-closing staple “The Last Song.” I mentioned before that Clutch fans are “CLUTCH FANS,” and that can ultimately be said for Lucero fans as well. They may have been largely outnumbered in this near-capacity crowd of around a thousandish, but they (we) were certainly a vocal minority.
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