Backyard Tire Fire, Year Long Disaster, Clutch August 20, 2007 The Boulder Theater Better than: an actual backyard tire fire or yearlong disaster
When I first saw Clutch in Austin in 1994, the audience was mostly clad in backward baseball caps and was there as an alternative to bar fighting. Elbows, grimaces and teeth flew in the perpetually swirling mosh pit. Last night’s sold-out show at the Boulder Theater, however, was quite a different scene. Through its 16-year existence, the Maryland-based heavy hardcore outfit has evolved from a relentlessly violent, hip-hop-inflected metal hybrid that presaged rap-rock to a complex, proficient, blues-based beast that appeals to a very different kind of fan. From teenagers to near-retirees, frat boys to stoners, hippies to metalheads, the crowd jockeying for drinks at the theater’s bar was even more eclectic than I’d envisioned. I decided to forego the bar ballet and made my way to the front fence at the apron of the stage, taking my place next to a Les Claypool look-a-like, who happened to be wearing a Les Claypool t-shirt.
Opener Backyard Tire Fire was already midway through its inspired-but-uninspiring set when I arrived. The crowd was pretty sparse in the front of the theater and consisted mostly of mulleted heshers and hemp-wearing Boulderites, a fitting visual accompaniment for Ed Anderson’s KBCO-friendly, singer-songrocker fare. While the band’s name brings to mind visions of redneck hoedowns and noxious clouds of black smoke, the trio’s lightweight jams lacked any implication of rock-n-roll danger and made them a poor fit for the night’s heavy bill.
As Year Long Disaster began to set up their equipment, the floor of the theater began to fill with the folks who’d been fueling up at the bar during BTF’s set. After a couple of the L.A. trio’s Danzig-esque bluesy metal, I found myself pressed against the fence, as a small-but-randy pit of dancers began to feel its oats. Daniel Davies coaxed impressive power from both his guitar and his larynx, while bassist Rich Mullins – looking every bit like that kid who kicked everybody’s ass in wood shop – and drummer Brad Hargreaves laid down crushing, compelling grooves that left me eager to hear the group’s forthcoming Volcom release.
In the intermission between YLD and the headliner, throngs of eager, liquored-up folks joined the rowdy trailblazers in the pit. Judging by their poor choice of footwear – a lot of sandals and flip-flops – it was clear that most of these folks weren’t habitués of the mosh pit. Their inexperience, however, didn’t stop them from starting a scuffle before Clutch even took the stage. Though security quickly quashed the melee, the lull only lasted until the band appeared and launched into its impressive set of metal, hardcore, Southern rock and stoner jams.
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Leaning heavily on material from their recent albums, lead guitarist Tim Sult, drummer Jean-Paul Gaster, bassist Dan Maines, organist Mick Schauer and vocalist/guitarist Neil Fallon were joined for numerous songs by a gigantic, badass harmonica blower and a road tech who played some impressive rhythm guitar parts. The now-frothing audience drank in the outfit’s indisputable attitude and energy, and channeled it into first-rate pummeling. Those who weren’t moshing were forced to press closely into whomever was nearest.
Clutch pounded through its material with stunning energy and incomparable musicianship. Sult and Gasper contributed particularly jaw-dropping performances. However, several of last night’s more jam-based songs suffered from a lack of intensity and focus. I couldn’t help thinking that if the band wasn’t already a brand name, its fervent fans would be unlikely to let it get away with such onanistic silliness. The music that is fun for bands to play isn’t always the same music that is fun for fans to hear and see performed. The group could have done a better job balancing the yin of its hardcore roots with the yang of its expansive, improvisational ambitions. – Eryc Eyl
Critic’s Notebook Personal Bias: Jam bands have never lifted my skirt and, for largely nostalgic reasons, I’m really partial to Clutch’s first few releases. Random Detail: After the crowd dissipated, I found one lone flip-flop, abandoned in the spilled beer and sweat of the dancefloor. How did that guy get home? Or was it merely a prop? By the Way: Though I make it sound as if Clutch has suddenly become a jam band, the guys actually experimented with extended song structures on the seven-minute-plus “High Caliber Consecrator” on their 1992 EP, Passive Restraints.