CLUTCH: (v.) To grasp or attempt to grasp and hold tightly. (n.) (1) The hand, claw, talon, paw, etc., in the act of grasping. (2) a tight grasp. (3) Control or power. (4) A device for engaging or disengaging two working parts of a shaft and a driving mechanism. (5) A tense or critical situation.
Regarding definition five: When he was 10, my father visited the circus for the last time after he witnessed a three-ring fatality when the tightrope artist lost his footing and took a 50-foot-plus swan dive to the concrete. Blood oozed from the corners of his mouth, nose and ears and the show was canceled. Refund? Doubt it.
Fast-forward 55 years and whatever nauseating premonition of impending doom my old man may have felt at the circus entered my abdomen as Clutch launched into its opening number. Some random circus freak scaled the lighting post at front stage left, deftly climbing at least 40 feet to the top of the lighting rig, struggling to maneuver from all fours to a two-leg balance, and began throwing up his arms and attempting to dance a jig. I cowered in my seat and waited for the laws of gravity to make a humbling example of this fool. But he came to his senses, much to the visible relief of Clutch, and somehow managed to slide down the lighting scaffold like a fireman responding to a five-alarm emergency. All he needed was a banana.
This only set the tone for what was one of the most intense shows I’ve seen in a long, long time. For 16 years, the Maryland four-piece has been one of the champs of the underground power-groove machinery that, for reasons unknown to me, continues to slide beneath the mainstream radar.
Take any or all of the above contexts for the word “clutch,” individually or collectively, and mold it like Play-Doh and you’ll get the sense of the show. Yes, the foursome grasped an eager crowd (known in certain circles as “gearheads”). Exercise control or power? Without question. Engaging or disengaging two working parts proved evident during singer Neil Fallon’s occasional retreat from the center stage spotlight, allowing his mates to stretch out a bit and show off some serious chops, including a generous drum solo that evolved into a “what’s coming next?” groove as the bassist joined in for an underlying accompaniment. This time it appeared in the tribal, slow kick-snare war march of “The Regulator,” Mile,” a number that conjures a tragic image of a scenario akin to the Trail of Tears, both quite sad and a bit pissed as well. Clutch allows its fans to decipher the message on their own terms.
Clutch’s catalogue runs so deep that to try to pinpoint the real crowd pleasers is futile. “Profits of Doom,” “You Can’t Stop Progress” and “Mob Gone Wild” come to mind. Although written prior to the U.S. troop body count of 4,000, “Mob Gone Wild” does, however, contain an unmistakable chorus echoing a severe distaste for man’s innate and insatiable appetite for destruction: “21 guns, a box made of pine, letter from the government sealed and signed. Delivered Federal Express, to your mama’s doorsteps.”
Thunderous props for opening act Kamchatka. This Swedish trio could have resulted from cross-breeding Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys with old, gritty ZZ Top and pouring them into a blender of Scotch whisky and mushrooms. They were the perfect opening act for a band of Clutch’s caliber and the audience let them know. After the curtain call I bought both CDs.