The Heavy: New Year’s With Clutch

Clutch/Corrosion Of Conformity/Earthride

The Trocadero

December 31, 2011

PHILADELPHIA, PA—New Year’s Eve with Clutch, C.O.C. and Earthride—sometimes life just provides you with easy choices. I mean, really, there was no way in hell I was going to miss this show. My wife and I packed into the car early to get down to Philly well in advance of doors at the Trocadero, where just a couple months ago, I saw Kyuss lay waste to an eager crowd. I expect a lot of the same heads came out for Clutch, and who could blame them?

The thing about this show was that apparently the venue was giving everyone a ration of shit the whole night. From barring entry to those who had, say, recently ingested Robitussin in a recreational capacity, to a long drama involving my photo pass, to putting Earthride on before the listed start-time for the show, it was kind of a rough night, and there was a bit of tension. For my part, I stood on line waiting to get in while some couple cut in front of me and took an obscene amount of time to get their passes while Earthride played the first four songs of their total six (maybe seven) songs, which I watched through the open doorway.

Everyone’s gear backlined behind them, they were pressed to the front of the stage in a single line. Left to right it was Dave Sherman on vocals, guitarist Kyle Van Steinberg, drummer Eric Little and bassist Josh Hart, and I got inside in the middle of their playing “Earthride,” which was killer as always, although I’m legally required to note that the best gig I’ve ever seen them play was at Tommy Southard‘s wedding at Asbury Lanes in October. Still, they gave a proud showing of the Maryland underground, which they’re quickly coming to embody in everything they do.

Although I’ve only noted three of them, there were actually four bands on the bill. Kyng played after Earthride, and as I was busy trying to acquire a pass to shoot C.O.C. and Clutch—which, really, was why I drove the two hours to Philadelphia to the show—I missed them completely. My interest was minimal in the first place, but between pouting and calling in favors, I was otherwise occupied. Maybe some other time, or maybe not. I was just happy that by the time C.O.C. got going it all had worked out.

It was my first time seeing the trio lineup of Corrosion Of Conformity. I’d previously sworn off going to see them on account of the lack of Pepper Keenan, but the three of them killed it. Given all the genre-melding that’s gone on since they released Animosity in 1985, it’s amazing how vibrant that material still sounds in its blend of thrash and hardcore punk, and bassist/vocalist Mike Dean, guitarist Woody Weatherman and drummer/vocalist Reed Mullin gave that material its due, staying honest in their portrayal of all sides of their sound, from Slayer to Black Flag to Sabbath, all within the span of a song. Dean and Mullin were notably tight, and Weatherman beat the living hell out of an already beaten guitar, and I almost immediately regretted not seeing them sooner.

The material was a decent mix of new and old. Animosity featured heavily, obviously, and they teased a “Hand Of Doom” cover without following through (god damn it). From the forthcoming self-titled album, I’d been hoping for “Psychic Vampires,” but they broke out “Your Tomorrow” and “The Moneychangers” instead, which fit in well alongside some of the classics. Weatherman played through two Orange cabinets, and his tone was thick perhaps to the sacrifice of some of the precision in the faster parts, but sounded just right for “Vote With A Bullet” and “Deliverance,” which was a pleasant surprise and probably their biggest crowd reaction. Dean took the lead vocal and was backed by Mullin and Weatherman for the chorus, which had all the power of their punkier songs and the mid-paced groove that typified the Keenan era of the band.

C.O.C. closed with the title-track from 1987′s Technocracy EP, which was as suitable a finish as one could ask and possibly the tightest song they played. There was a long break while Clutch‘s gear was fired up and checked, and as I was driving, not drinking, I basically just stayed up front and waited for the band to start, which they did at 11:20. I didn’t know what the deal was with how they were going to handle midnight, whether they’d do a countdown or just say Happy New Year at the time or rock right through it or what, but I was willing to trust they had it all figured out. Clutch being introduced as they had been last time I saw them in Flint, Michigan, by Chuck Brown‘s “We Need Some Money,” it was apparent right from the start that the crowd was ready to party. They hadn’t even started to play yet and people were singing along and dancing.

For my part, I stayed up front even after I was done taking pictures. They opened with “The Mob Goes Wild”—appropriate given the chaos ensuing—and were under way with no time to warm up, no time to get going, no build of momentum. Clutch came out, and Clutch kicked it. Hard and right in the ass with a yeti-sized boot. I was waiting for the new song “Newt Gingrich,” the wolfman-centric chorus of which had been stuck in my head for a few days thanks to a hefty dose of YouTube-ing, and when it finally arrived, it was tighter and clearer than it had been in Michigan. It was also one of two new inclusions in the set, and though the other—reportedly-titled “Pig Town Blues”—was harder to get a grasp on, it was also pretty straight-ahead rocking, and a good complement to the bluesy flow of “Newt Gingrich,” which is more typical of latter-day Clutch and in the vein of 2009′s Strange Cousins From The West, the rhythm of its chorus being quintessential Neil Fallon post-Elephant Riders.

“Pure Rock Fury” was a highlight and something I’d been hoping for. The night prior, at Starland Ballroom, they’d unleashed “A Shogun Named Marcus,” “Spacegrass” and “50,000 Unstoppable Watts,” but Philly had its share of specialties as well. Fallon seemed to be in charge of the setlist, calling out changes to bassist Dan Maines, drummer Jean-Paul Gaster and guitarist Tim Sult as they went along, switching the order in what was apparently an effort to line up midnight with a lengthy jam. While dueling with Gaster on cowbell, Fallon called out the countdown to 2012; four minutes, then three, then two, then one, then 30 seconds, 10, nine, eight and so on until it was “Happy New Year everybody!” and the band kicked almost instantly into “Animal Farm,” which, though it’s grown somewhat slower with age, lacked nothing for righteousness of groove.

I was glad to catch “Subtle Hustle” and “Mice And Gods” again, and “Freakonomics,” a fully-electrified version of “Regulator” (Fallon had some technical problems with his guitar, but once they got going it sounded great) and “Electric Worry” into “One Eye Dollar,” which finished the regular set at about 1 a.m. They came back out after a long break for what I had assumed because I saw it on the written setlist next to Gaster would just be “Big News I & II” but turned out to be that transitioning into “The Soapmakers” and then “Cypress Grove” and finally “Burning Beard” (someone please tell me if I’ve got that order wrong). By then, I’d been thoroughly rocked, and the decision to include not one but two drum solos in the encore was bold, to say the least, and though when it was over my feet would barely hold me up, I was glad as hell to have been able to see the show.

Dan Maines‘ tone had been particularly warm, Fallon was on as always, Tim Sult laid it down smooth and classy, and Gaster has more personality in his sticks than most drummers do in their whole kit, but it was time to split out. They finished and the crowd dispersed, leaving behind a disgusting, alcohol-covered floor, some discarded cups, and merch dollars. My wife and I walked the couple blocks back to the car and, at 1:35 a.m.—set about the two-hour trip back north. Were I going to do it again, and I can only assume that at some point I will, I’d probably get a hotel room reserved ahead of time, but if 2012 had to start with me sleeping till noon on Jan. 1, it was well worth the tradeoff.


Clutch will have a new album out this year, and C.O.C. recently announced a headlining tour. They’ll be at Gramercy Theatre in NYC on March 1, and their self-titled album is set for release Feb. 28.


JJ Koczan is gonna keep going as long as they keep comin’ around.