Neil Fallon was happy that the Mayans were wrong about the end of the world. The Clutch frontman spelled out his reasoning to the crowd that packed the floor and the wings of the Fillmore on Friday night, taking a rare break between tunes in a breakneck set that lasted more than an hour. "I like the earth. I like you. I like playing rock and roll," declared Fallon, simply, before adding that an apocalypse would have made the band's plans for a new album in March pretty tough. It was one of the few asides in a straightforward, energetic and rousing performance by Clutch, a show that simultaneously celebrated the band's past and hinted at its future. That musical mix of nostalgia and novelty was a good way to celebrate surviving the end of the world.
See also: - Clutch gets a beer named after it courtesy of New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins - Q&A: Thanks to the illusion of reinvention, Clutch continues to defy typecasting - Review: Clutch at Boulder Theater, 8/20/07
Indeed, the entire night had the feel of a blowout, a party to celebrate some special occasion. Clutch's set capped more than three hours of music, a showcase that featured local bands like No 1 Left Standing and Lola Black, as well as a lengthy set from fellow headliners Texas Hippie Coalition. By the time Clutch took the stage at around 11 p.m., the crowd had had plenty of time to get comfortable and build up their energy. The other bands had mentioned the failed Mayan apocalypse, and there was a sustained mood of exultation in the air.
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But that mood didn't derail Clutch's straightforward approach to their set. Clutch took a direct, no-nonsense approach to their performance, even before they started playing the first strains of "Gravel Road" and "Immortal." The other acts featured in the "When Hell Freezes Over" showcase had included plenty of standard rock spectacle in their sets -- for example, both Lola Black and Texas Hippie Coalition had played in front of large banners bearing the name of their group. But Clutch opted for a much simpler setup. There were no banners, no risers, no flashy equipment. The setup would have fit in a much smaller rock club. After the first couple of songs in Clutch's set, the Fillmore no longer felt as large or roomy.
Fallon's energy was unbridled from the very first tune. Through renditions of "Profits of Doom," "Escape from the Prison Planet" and "The House That Peterbilt," Fallon roamed across the stage. With his constant hand gestures, exaggerated facial expressions and his sterling vocals, Fallon engaged the crowd and ramped up the energy of the room. Fallon's approach was theatric, but the rest of the band seemed focused entirely on the music.
Guitarist Tim Sult, bassist Dan Maines and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster went about the music with a concentration that was impossible to miss. Sult's eyes remained glued to the neck of his Gibson through raucous anthems like "Unstoppable Watts" and bluesier tunes like "Electric Worry." Maines kept a similar, singular focus on his own instrument and his own space -- even breaking a string hardly seemed to break his concentration. While Gaster was explosive and unhinged in his drumming (he broke a stick shortly after the band started the first song), he too seemed almost businesslike in his playing.
That focus lasted through the band's twenty-song set, a performance that included several new songs that Fallon said would be included on a new album to be released in March. The new material offered the band's familiar brand of swagger and drive -- new lyrics proclaimed "I'm a god ... Everybody hear me now." The music drew from the blues and metal realms of the band's catalogue -- Fallon took a break from his over-the-top hand gestures to play harmonica, cowbell and guitar on several new songs.
Unfamiliar material didn't derail the crowd - they kept up their frenzy and enthusiasm until the final tune. Multiple mosh pits formed on the floor within the first fifteen minutes of the set; the entire house seemed to rock as a single entity during the chorus of "Electric Worry." Before playing the final song, an encore performance of "Cypress Grove," Fallon thanked the crowd for their kindness, and spoke to the fact that Denver has always welcomed the band with open arms.
"Starting this March, we're gonna be on tour for a real long time," Fallon said, adding that it was likely the group would be back in Colorado in 2013. The crowd responded with cheers and frenzy -- either from excitement at the prospect of another Clutch show, or out of the pure joy borne of surviving an apocalypse. Either way, the audience at the Fillmore seemed happy at the mention of a new year.
Both Lola Black and No 1 left standing showed why they'd earned the titles "Best Band in Denver" from KBPI. The local acts delivered dynamic and energetic sets early in the night, earning applause and enthusiasm from a crowd that was still getting settled.
The Texas Hippie Coalition delivered a compelling mix of traditional Texas blues and hardcore fervor straight off a Pantera record. Frontman Big Dad Rich cut an interesting image on stage. Describing himself as a "300-pound, Sasquatch-looking motherfucker," Rich sang of whisky and weed, brought his two sons out on stage and talked about moving to Colorado to take part in the budding legal marijuana industry.
Fresh off his dismissal from KBPI, Uncle Nasty (aka Greg Stone) enjoyed a stirring tribute from fans and peers alike during the show. Between the sets of Lola Black and THC, Stone walked onstage to furious applause from the audience. "Thank you," he offered simply, "You've made it a great fifteen years." He exited to a coordinated chorus of 'Nasty' from the capacity crowd.
Personal Bias: Maybe it was because I grew up with a dad who played a lot of ZZ Top on the stereo, but the cues of Texas blues in THC's set resonated pretty deeply with me.
Random Note: When Maines broke a string on his Rickenbacker bass and hurried to replace it, Fallon spoke of one of the band's first Denver gigs at what was then called Mammoth Gardens. They were opening up for Sepultura, he recalled, and the venue looked completely different.
By the way: Fallon kind of looks like Charlie Day from "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."
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