The year may be winding down and most bands finished their touring schedule for the year but sure enough, there are still some great lineups to witness before a red-clad pensioner slides down your chimney. One of which is Clutch ably supported by Valient Thorr and Lionize.
Lionize have supported Clutch in the past and have the honour of being first on stage to warm up the gradually filling Institute. Featuring big riffs and grooves, the Americans deliver hard and dirty rock with a good measure of funk to get the crowd moving. Far more aggressive than the previous time I saw them, they ensure there’s still room for their more chilled out aspect with funk and soul. Clutch’s Tim Sult makes an early appearance to jam with them on guitar, adding a whole lot of depth and texture with the second Les Paul and makes for the best song of the night. It’s a new dynamic and one which allows them to up their game significantly, garnering their warmest reception. If a second guitar were to be added permanently, it would only benefit them.
Valient Thorr make the thundering charge to follow Lionize and pump more life into the crowd. Less complex than Lionize’s sound, they opt for a grittier route and the five-piece are filled with energy, none more than off-the-wall frontman Valient Himself. Fitting in excellently to the bill, they blaze through their slot, their groove-laden hard rock has little frills but their sound and performance itself wins over the audience with ease.
Valient Himself has an “us versus them” mentality between songs but it’s not carried with enough weight and comes across as more of a gimmick to tie in with the band. By the time their final song hits, it seems the crowd are getting restless, having had their fill and are waiting for the night’s headliners.
Setting the bar high with opener “Crucial Velocity”, the high-octane song jump starts the crowd and neither band nor crowd let up for the remainder of the night. As ever with Clutch, they hammer out a career-spanning and ever-changing set. Each night will be different from the next with the odd exception of some songs they have to play. Opting to not rely too heavily on last year’s Psychic Warfare, they pepper it in alongside the behemoth Earth Rocker material and past that, they dig deep into their extensive back catalogue with songs like “Passive Restraints”, “Escape From the Prison Planet” and “The Soapmaker” alongside the more obvious songs like “50,000 Unstoppable Watts” and “The Regulator”.
Clutch and Lionize once again reunite onstage with keyboard player Chris Brooks contributing to “10001110101” and “Prison Planet”. Clutch don’t do mellow but this is about as close as it comes before they hit the accelerator again for the final few songs. When the cowbell appears, the crowd instantly knows what is about to come: “DC Sound Attack”, one of my favourite Clutch tracks. The way Neil Fallon hammers out a beat on Christopher Walken’s favourite piece of percussion is hypnotic and continues it for the finale of the song with Tim Sult accompanying him with a massive riff before heading into “The Face”.
Encore time allows Fallon to break out the slide guitar for the staple “Electric Worry” which sends the crowd wild before the almost instant classic of “X-Ray Visions” rounds off the night. The already active crowd which ramp things up a gear for the first song of the encore manage to find enough in their reserves for the final song to go even wilder and it’s a hard choice to know where to look.
Meanwhile, as Clutch delivered another flawless performance, you have to appreciate a band enduring as they have been, only finding widespread recognition in the last few years. Not taking their turning fortunes for granted, it’s reflected by how varied they make their setlist in order to appeal to those who have been there since the start. As they conjure an image of being masters of their craft, it’s a wonder why it took this long for them to break and even then, how they’re not playing to even bigger audiences. However, they’re unfazed in this and remain focused on delivering massive dirty riffs backed up by grooves forged from the hammer of Thor and Neil Fallon’s rumbling vocals, looking like he’d be at home on the set of Vikings.
Their days of having a cult following may be over. Clutch are basking in the glory of playing relatively big venues in their own right. A long overdue achievement and if they keep knocking out performances and albums like recent years, it has no end in sight.
All photos by Glowe Photography.