Back in 2019 I became a single parent, I say this not as a poor woe-is-me opener, but as a comment that whilst I live 50% of my time with my two amazing children, it’s meant that opportunities for attending live shows are more circumspect and I watched with early disappointment as tours came and went for bands I love clashing with my family responsibilities.
Then of course came the shutdown of 2020 that bled into 2021, the result of which led me to be moved practically to tears when the lights came up during the outro tape of Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better at the end of the Skindred show I saw in October that year. The fear of being at a potential super spreader event was nullified by the cathartic release of being part of a crowd again and feeling the vibrancy and vitality of a moment that, at one point, (hysteria induced no doubt) felt like it may never happen again.
As such, considering all of the above, when the seasoned road warriors and Maryland’s finest purveyors of blues drenched hard rock Clutch announced their UK tour on the back of the superb Sunrise On Slaughter Beach album a literal fifteen-minute walk from my house in Exeter during November, again a month later with a civilised jaunt up the M5 to Bristol, and both were happening on nights the kids were with their mum. It felt like the universe decided after a long series of events, that if I listed, I would see myself branded as a Marxist, Globalist, SJW, Woke Snowflake, took its boot off my neck for a moment and frankly it was too good an opportunity to pass up, particularly as the headliners have a canny knack for playing constantly changing and unpredictable setlists.
Whilst the line-up was the same, the two venues couldn’t be more contrasting. The Great Hall lies to the lower side of Exeter in the lavish University campus, and true to its unimaginative name, it’s a fucking great theatre hall, long, wide and open meaning that the sound can be somewhat hit and miss. In fact, the best sound I have experienced there was Motörhead about two lifetimes ago where I stood at the back, and it still felt like my ears were bleeding two days after the event. Everything Louder Than Everything else indeed.
Bristol’s 02 Academy in comparison is compact, but tall and being a regular stop for touring bands means that it is a ‘proper’ gig venue, albeit one with a tight front of stage floor.
Opening up were Brighton’s indie/alternative rockers Tigercub, notable for having had their debut album, Abstract Figures In The Dark, produced by Alex Newport of Fudge Tunnel and Nailbomb fame.
the band [Tigercub] were tight and full of groove…
I’ll be honest, at the Exeter gig, I knew about thirty people in the audience, some I hadn’t seen since ‘the before times’ and as I’d only done a cursory amount of research on the band, I opted to play it by ear. My plan to listen from the sidings of the bar whilst catching up with people was as successful as you would imagine. One of my companions, who also attended the Bristol show, did venture to the stage and reported that they seemed ‘alright’ but the sound quality rendered singer Jamie Stephen Hall virtually inaudible.
In Bristol we staked out a good spot, the much-improved sound, as well as actually paying attention, showed the band were tight and full of groove, drawing comparisons to The Hives, Muse and even Placebo at moments. They had some jagged and monstrous moments, as well as some off kilter dalliances and an abrasive edge that basically told me I should revisit them again on record, listen to the lyrics and digest some of the more complex elements as they can certainly throw out a banging riff or two.
When the tour was announced, I knew that Clutch would deliver, they have never not done so, but this would be the first opportunity to see London’s Green Lung. Having been a fan of the doomy and psychedelic rock outfit since their awesome Woodland Rites debut album in 2019, this was as much of a treat as the headliners for me.
Returning to Devon for the first time since vowing to never return after an ill-fated gig in Tiverton, they took commanding to the stage with a great reception.
on both nights were treated to tracks like Woodland Rites, Reaper’s Scythe, Old Gods, Upon The Altar and Let The Devil In to increasingly rapturous response…
Playing a decent mix from their first album and the awesome follow up, 2021’s Black Harvest, the audience on both nights were treated to tracks like Woodland Rites, Reaper’s Scythe, Old Gods, Upon The Altar and Let The Devil In to increasingly rapturous response in Exeter, despite the sound robbing some of the clarity and muddied Tom Templar’s Ozzy tinged vocals.
While in Bristol, there was universal acclaim from the audience, the set seemed to zip by in all honesty and felt shorter than in Exeter, but was made up for the feeling of brevity by being crystal clear as Green Lung clearly showed the benefits of the previous month on the road.
And so to Clutch. Positioning myself centre stage and two rows back from the barrier in Exeter nullified some of the sound issues reported from other attendees, and having never seen a bad show by them, it was just a matter of what they would play. I rarely bother listening to the band on the run up to a gig as they always throw a curveball by playing everything except what I want to hear, yet they still deliver.
However, in the proceeding months we were treated to their excellent new album, whilst not breaking much in the way of new sonic ground, it is chock full of high quality tunes and to my enduring pride, my seven year old son played this on a daily basis and proudly declared Nosferatu Madre his favourite track. Personally, I viewed their previous setlists as the band regularly post them on social media, with a mind that I had two opportunities to potentially hear the stone-cold banger that is Mercy Brown.
we got treated to Impetus with Jimbob Isaac (he of Hark and Taint fame) guesting and a welcome closer of Wolfman…
Exeter was a more mellow setlist that surprisingly included no less than five tracks off the new album, including the two mentioned above, Nosferatu Madre and Mercy Brown, as well as showing a lot of love to one of my favourite records Strange Cousins. On top of this, we got treated to Impetus with Jimbob Isaac (he of Hark and Taint fame) guesting and a welcome closer of Wolfman which did get the pit fired up around us.
With all the checklist of songs my boy needed to hear (sorry for those around me whilst I was videoing like a prick, he has some miles to go before his first gig – I sure as hell ain’t treating him to an £82 Iron Maiden ticket in June!), Bristol was literally a free hit in terms of what I wanted the band to play.
Not being front and centre didn’t matter with the improved sound as the band were greeted to thunderous applause from the jam-packed crowd while the standard Chuck Brown & The Soul Searchers intro played out. Opening with two numbers from their Transnational Speedway debut, El Jefe Speaks and A Shogun Named Marcus, this was a very different set in tone, they covered classics like Mice And Gods, Mob Goes Wild and to my delight The Soapmakers and 10001110101.
the band walked off triumphant as ever, leaving both audiences knowing that they had watched the absolute masters of the live show…
Joined for the last part of the set by former Opeth and current Spiritual Beggars keyboard player Per Wiberg, the fattened sound allowed the band more flexibility to bust out numbers they didn’t get the chance to play on other nights, like the aforementioned binary bothering track.
Concluding in Bristol with The Face, the band walked off triumphant as ever, leaving both audiences knowing that they had watched the absolute masters of the live show who had them eating out of their hands long before they even took the stage.
Twice in the space of a month is an indulgent luxury I appreciate in this day and age, but with the variety of the songs played and the absolute perfection of the execution, it is not one taken lightly.
Words by: Mark Hunt-Bryden
Photos by: Mark Pierce