Sat 21st May 2005
Support from Five Horse Johnson, 3 Stages of Pain
I know it's a terrible thing to say, but whenever I see Clutch live, no matter how much I look forward to watching the support bands, or how good they are on the night, my general mood is of impatience. Considering this has affected my viewings of such great bands as Spiritual Beggars, Candiria, Dozer and Spiritu in the past it's an annoying habit. It's a nervous energy thing I guess. Bearing this in mind, Doncaster's 3 Stages of Pain do well to leave a mark. I'd somehow missed them until this year, and having left a little underwhelmed the first time I saw them live, I'm now beginning to see sense. Naturally, their metallic assault is in contrast to the rest of the bill (particularly Five Horse Johnson), but this doesn't seem to bother the filling room who are suitably impressed. They probably suffer slightly from being on a large stage - in the intimate surroundings of the Cricketer's Arms recently they were superb - but it's a tight set, and the material is sounding better to these ears all the time.
Five Horse Johnson, complete with Jean Paul Gaster on drums, enter to a now near full house. Along with Gideon Smith and the Dixie Damned, Five Horse Johnson are probably the best band around doing the southern US state stoner rock, and it's a pleasure to see them again. Playing material from across their whole catalogue, they receive huge cheers after every song (which makes you wonder why there was only a single figure attendance to their headline show in Sheffield 18 months ago...). There's a danger of the songs blending together a bit, but this is largely overcome by vocalist Eric Oblander's (who is looking more and more like a blond Michael Moore) use of harmonica, and the two or three times when guitarist Brad Coffin takes the mic, and the set benefits from the differing vocal stylings. It does drag a little towards the end, despite the excellent 'Mississippi King', but then that's probably the nervous energy kicking in, and overall it's an entertaining, if not spectacular set.
And so to Clutch. Pre-tour interviews with the band have informed us that due to the late (and therefore recent) release of their last album in the UK, the set lists would be 'Blast Tyrant' heavy. That's no bad thing - the album is ace and seems stronger on every listen, but everyone here tonight wants to hear their favourite from across their seven long players. When they open up with 'Ship of Gold' from 'Elephant Riders' and then its title track, you know everything's gonna be alright, and a special night is ahead of us. They of course do play several from 'Blast Tyrant' - 'Promoter', 'Cypress Grove' and 'The Regulator' early on all sound even better live than on record - and they're seemlessly interspersed with golden oldies - from the obvious (eg 'A Shogun Named Marcus', 'Pure Rock Fury') to, fantastically, the less so (hearing 'I Have the Body of John Wilkes Booth' live for the first time is possibly the biggest thrill of the night).
The band, now a five piece with the addition of Mike Schauer on keyboards, are also up for it, on top form and seem totally at ease on stage. Particularly when not playing rhythym guitar, Fallon, free to throw his arms around, point and gesture, manages to make everyone here feel part of the gig, and he's at his wide-eyed, big-bearded best. In a set of over an hour and a half the entertainment never dips below maximum (and how many other band could manage that?), even when they play two songs off the not yet released 'Robot Hive/Exodus' album, that, unsurprisingly for a band who have dealt in consistency and quality for years and years, sound as good as everything else and yet original.
If Clutch were ever asked to play a three hour jam set, you get the feeling they'd happily agree, and there are a couple of instrumental moments in tonight's set. But they have always seemed to have the knack of knowing exactly when to rein in these tendancies and go back to the songs. And, frankly, no other band on Earth has a better collection to choose from. As the gig comes to an end, with an encore of 'Mercury' and 'Profits of Doom', you're left feeling exhilarated, exhausted and overjoyed. Clutch - my favourite group on record - manage to sound better live, and there's surely not a better band to go see in the world. Near gig perfection.