It was a night of workhorses. Working class guys emerged from their garages and their stores and their offices and their factories to swill plastic cups of Bud Lite and openly smoke joints under the stage lights. I’m one of them, minus the beer and joint.
I get there just as the first opener is finishing up. They bid farewell and the roadies do their thing. Banners are lowered and raised.
Sevendust comes on, looking like they’re clocking in.
Lajon Witherspoon’s voice is hoarse as hell but he does what he can. They use a backing track for the screaming parts.
“You guys have been taking care of something since 19fucking25,” says Lajon towards the end of the brief set, referring to the Fillmore. He calls it the “prettiest” theater they’ve ever been in, quite a compliment for a guy who’s been on the tour since the late 90’s. That’s a lot of theaters.
“Are you with us?” he asks repeatedly. “Can you feel the energy in here tonight?”
For the last time, yes.
The light show is blinding. I turn my head. There’s blasts of steam ejecting upwards at the front of the stage, and the one at dead center turns Lajon into a column of steam with massive tattooed arms. The set goes by fast.
After Sevendust is gone, there’s bro hugs in the mosh pit, beers held high, the occasional thrown water bottle or t-shirt.
The crowd is a lot of rough white dudes, lots of shaved heads, long beards, black t-shirts and their girlfriends and wives, all of whom look like well-aged waitresses. The audience skews older. Seeing anyone under thirty is a rarity, although there are a couple random kids in audience as you’ll see.
Everyone sings along as Black Sabbath’s The Wizard comes over the sound system.
The lights go down promptly at 9:46.
Clutch’s intro plays. Chuck Brown’s Money.
Can I hear you say hell yeah?
“Hell yeah!” responds the Fillmore.
They appear. A consummate working class rock band even though they’re millionaires thanks to smart business decisions like opening their own label and such.
They own the stage with their instruments only. It’s a simple set up, practical.
Neil Fallon wears a Nostromo t-shirt.
“D- town rockers,” he says by way of opening.
No time is wasted. They tear right into The Mob Goes Wild (the line, “Everybody move to Canada, smoke lots of pot” has special significance tonight), followed by The House That Peterbilt. Two old crowd-pleasers. The raw energy is palpable. It feels as though one could distill it into a hell of a liquor shot.
“Goodness gracious,” Neil says, shit-eating grin on his face. “There’s so many of you.”
He does a brief PSA for the few kids in attendance.
“I see some young faces here, which is so cool,” he says, addressing the enthusiastic moshers. “Just make sure that while you’re having your fun, they can have theirs. You only get to make one first impression.”
They run through some new songs, ripping through them like a dog with a new toy.
Neil dons his hollow-body electric. He points to the front of the pit where there appears to be a bit of a skirmish.
“Are there any problems over here?” he asks in that friendly mechanic Zeus-voice of his. “Cause if there are, I will rain sunshine down upon you.”
With that, he plays the opening blues riff to The Regulator and it’s like lightning just struck.
Clutch is the most powerful-sounding band I know of whose overall vibe remains positive. Only they could make sunshine sound like virtuous threat, one that you almost want unleashed upon you. It’s a threat that says, I will fix you right.
Even though Tim Sult and Dan Maines are stationary the whole time, the sound they create is immense. Neil does his weird preacher waddle, gesticulating like a vaudevillian. They command the smoked up stage while knights stand guard on either side wielding axe- spears.
The air smells like beer, weed and hairspray from a 50s-ish woman in front of me, her hair teased up like it’s 88. Her bruiser husband headbangs.
Clutch are one of those bands for whom recordings do no real justice. You have to see them live. Lines that come off as cheesy like, “Are you cool? Well, I’m cool,” and “Hey hey now, what’s that smell?” are transformed into mighty calls to arms when they’re blasted out right in front of you in real time. Through a car speaker, it sounds like your dad.
In that way, Clutch are among the last of the old school bands. Jimi Hendrix, Joplin, Doors, Nirvana, and the rest — none were done justice by their recordings. They had to be experienced live and in the moment to be appreciated.
The boys from Frederick do old songs, they do new songs. It all blends together. My forehead is sweaty. I never did get myself a beer.
Neil sings about aliens and ghouls, sci-fi and horror, war and women, defcon tractor beams and pale riders and prison planets and Catholic upbringings and sports cars he wishes he owned and Little Bunny Foo Foo. His trucker’s bellow is on point.
It’s a righteous waterfall of feel-good metal. We’re all wrapped in a cocoon of pure sonic power.
I take my earplugs out. Fuck the tinnitus. They can have me raw. You have to love a band to let them fuck your eardrums raw. It’s like fucking without a condom — you gotta love and trust the person you’re with.
There’s a brief encore. The crowd stomps and claps with increasing velocity. The stage is bathed in lavender and blue. The eagle backdrop glares at everyone.
They reappear, do the final track off their latest release.
“All aboard,” barks Neil as he busts out his harmonica and cowbell for DC Sound Attack, their closing song. They do an extended outro jam. It lasts longer than the song itself.
They’re clearly having a great time. One gets the impression they don’t always get crowds like this.
“Happy birthday,” Neil grins to someone in the pit as he clanks on his cowbell with a drumstick. The person holds up a t-shirt that presumably says, “Its my birthday!” probably in Sharpie.
“You were the first, you are the best,” he says to us D-Town rockers once the jam ends. He heads offstage. Tomorrow they’ll be in Pittsburgh, steel-town.
The lights come up, and Lemmie drawls on about the Ace of Spades as we make our way out.