Live Gig Report by Alan Daly
© Olga Kuzmenko
Photos by Olga Kuzmenko
It’s one week since the tragic events at the Bataclan Theatre in Paris and Clutch are scheduled to play a much-anticipated show in Dublin. Some high profile bands have recently chosen to cancel or curtail touring amid security and safety concerns. Thankfully the Maryland rockers have chosen not to disappoint fans who are prepared to attend a potential terrorist target which conceivably could be anywhere and not just at a rock show.
Eighteen months ago, Clutch visited the capitol for their first Irish show in nine years and tickets had sold out months in advance. That was for the final show of their “Earth Rocker” world tour and appropriately, tonight’s show in the beautiful and historic Olympia theatre kicks off their European “Psychic Warfare” tour. The larger venue may not have sold out so early, but it is bustling with an excited audience eager to hear fresh material from their highly acclaimed new album of the same name.
Supporting them on this leg of the tour, and performing for their first time in Dublin, are the Greek southern rock quartet Planet of Zeus. Bursting with emotion and energy, their opening track gets every head in the Olympia banging along and rousing applause between tracks reaffirms the approval of the audience, most of whom seem unfamiliar with their songs, save for a core of dedicated fans at the front. Frontman Babis Papanikolaou delivers the lyrics with gusto, pulling contorted facial expressions throughout the set, and is helped out on vocals by guitarist Stelios Provis and drummer Serapheim Giannakopoulos. The band are confident and relaxed and interact occasionally with the crowd, introducing songs and proclaiming “We like to have fun. Do you like to have fun?” Apparently so. Planet of Zeus is a name worth remembering and checking out for any fan of rock.
Clutch set the bar extremely high for themselves in 2013 when they released Earth Rocker, voted album of the year by Metal Hammer, but the pressure did not stop them from writing and recording another cracker of an album Psychic Warfare which was released in October. Having previewed a couple of tracks earlier this year at Download Festival, it was clear that Clutch have honed in even further on the sound and style that have made them synonymous with pure American rock for many.
By refreshingly mixing their setlist up on a nightly basis, there are no guarantees that you will hear a particular favourite at a Clutch show, and indeed tonight there are some initially disappointing omissions, but this adds to the enjoyment of the live experience. After all, you can go home and play your favourite album track to your heart’s content. The band, who have been together for almost a quarter of a century, take to the stage to a recorded cover of Chuck Brown’s ‘We Need Some Money’ before frontman Neil Fallon casually suggests “Let’s start the party. What do you say?” Unsurprisingly, the setlist draws heavily from Psychic Warfare right from the opening one-two of ‘X-Ray Visions’ and ‘Firebirds’.
A huge backdrop with the new album artwork hangs behind a modest stack of amplifiers and a bare-bones drumkit. Clutch have no need for any further props or gimmicks and simply let the music do the talking, and it’s a modesty appreciated by the faithful fans. Of course without any frivolous distractions, the sound quality needs to be perfect and the sound engineers have done a stellar job tonight with everything perfectly balanced.
As usual, Fallon spends the night pounding the stage, full of passion and animated emotion, and makes a seemingly concerted effort to directly address and make eye contact with each and every one of the audience as if speaking directly to them. His gestures and body language are as loud as the music, and if one were to suddenly go deaf during the performance, one would still know what song was being played. Drummer Jean-Paul Gaster is equally animated, making silly faces and seemingly “singing” along with his own drum parts, while guitarist Tim Sult and bassist Dan Maines focus on belting out those catchy riffs and rhythms.
The crowd already seem familiar with the new tracks, particularly ‘A Quick Death in Texas’ and ‘Son of Virginia’, but one of the biggest sing-alongs of the night is during the title track of Earth Rocker, which sees them joining Fallon utter the wise words “If you’re gonna do it, do it live on stage, or don’t do it at all”. The energy both on and off stage remains high throughout the eighteen track setlist, rarely interrupted only for brief humble words of thanks from the forever friendly frontman. The prophetic finale of ‘The Mob Goes Wild’ and ‘The Wolfman Kindly Requests…’ ends the show on a high note with even some crowd-surfing. Once again, Clutch leave the stage to tremendous applause, sure to attract an even bigger audience next time around.