The Sword and Clutch
With Never Got Caught and Graveyard
Friday, September 26
The Culture Room, Ft. Lauderdale
Better Than: Not discovering the awesomeness that was Graveyard.
The Washington, D.C.-area quartet Clutch have been around since about 1991, and have seemingly been on the road ever since. That's a long time in which to explore a number of different sounds along the hard rock spectrum, and in which to gather a seriously hardcore following. As such, Clutch could tour with just about any heavy band, and take a great number of them on the road. So it was interesting to discover the tenuous common thread that held Friday's acts together: the blues. Well, sort of.
In fact, the acts seemed arranged along a spectrum, beginning with the Boston band Never Got Caught. Although the core of the band -- Bryan and Bill Hinkley -- were the backbone of that city's hardcore legends Tree, they seem to have gone a little softer, errr, more "mature." Although their recorded tracks boast some interesting twists and churns, live on Friday, playing to an anemic early-evening crowd, they sounded (and looked) more like a blues-inflected bar band than anything else. Not unpleasant, but nothing to write home about. My companion and I were momentarily impressed by the Orange brand double stacks behind them, until we realized they were turned off, and most of the equipment seemed to belong to the following acts, Graveyard and The Sword.
Graveyard, in fact, were the greatest surprise discovery of the evening. With their impossibly long hair, almost skeletal frames, and worn-out flannels, they looked as though they could be the Sword's Austin, Texas neighbors. The funky accent that issued forth from the frontman's lips, however, sounded Scandinavian. Score! The band actually hails from one of my favorite cities on earth -- Gothenburg, Sweden.
And while that leafy, cobblestoned town is the birthplace of "melodic death metal," a la In Flames and At the Gates, Graveyard instead worship at the more mystical, Muddy Waters-lovin' altars of Deep Purple and the like. Graveyard's music is soaring, technically adept, straddling the line between a "classic rock" sound and more contemporary heavy music, and, most importantly, it's LOUD. This is hands-down one of the most exciting bands to randomly roll through Ft. Lauderdale, and we can only hope that the exposure gained through this tour might bring them back to our shores sometime soon.
Those impressive double-stacks belonged to the next act, The Sword, and they used them to full effect -- to singe off the faces of anyone within a 50-yard radius. These guys toured the states earlier this year with Miami's own Torche, and how anyone escaped from those gigs with ear drums intact, I don't know. The Sabbath comparisons here are inescapable, but that's a great, great thing. Anyone who talks crap about this band need only to see them live to be made to shut up -- they are crushing and epic, and rock out with a minimum of "metal" cheese. Dare I even say they're kind of transporting? By the end of their set I was left wiping up my puddle of drool, wondering what the hell just happened.
Last, but not least, of course, were Clutch. By now the audience had transformed in size from kind of dead to surprisingly packed -- guess this was truly Clutch's crowd. And while that crowd may not be the youngest, it seems to be one of the most appreciative, even rowdiest -- a circle pit, strangely, opened up by the second song. Frontman Neil Fallon is a man possessed onstage, controlledly pacing, his eyes almost crossing as he squeezes out his raspy, bluesy wail. The band has a real meat-and-potatoes, American sound that expands and contracts, expands and contracts, creating an exciting push-and-pull for its enthusiastic fans. While some bands are more studio-oriented, Clutch has long ago found its niche in the live realm, and it's still clear that that's where the band truly belongs.
Personal Bias: I'm automatically partial to most things skinny, long-haired, and plaid-clad from Scandinavia and Austin, Texas.
Random Detail: The number of sunburn/sleeveless T-shirt/frayed baseball cap combos usually spotted at Culture Room seemed to reach an even higher critical mass on Friday night. Wooo, livin' for the weekend!
By the Way: You can pick up Clutch's latest live DVD/album package, Full Fathom Five, on the band's web site at www.pro-rock.com.