SMILE, TASTE KITTENS, AND REVEL: CLUTCH’S LIVE AT THE 9:30 DVD
The bands I love most tend to be a love or hate prospect, ones that garner only a strong reaction from a person. Neurosis are either a band you get or a band that bores you. Darkthrone either shook something deep in you or they’re way too kvlt for your tastes. And Clutch, well… Clutch don’t seem to fit into that category. I find it hard to believe that if you like music, you can truly dislike Clutch. There’s so much there to dig and nothing really that offensive about them (unless you have a problem with beards, in which case… what the fuck is wrong with you?). So, in theory, they’re almost too accessible, and perhaps not necessarily a band to love. But even a cursory glance below the surface reveals complexities to lose yourself in: clever and occasionally out-there lyrics, stellar musicianship, and a decade and a half’s worth of remarkably-solid-to-staggeringly-excellent material. In a way, Clutch’s tendency to make you want to grab a beer and start bellowing your best Neil Fallon impression with nine of your closest friends works to their disadvantage. They’re too good to be true, but are, in fact, true.
Clutch’s new double DVD set, Live at the 9:30, ably (and occasionally exhaustively) documents this. With one disc of a spectacular show and another of an hour and a half’s worth of rare footage, fan interviews, and history from the band themselves, it’s enough for a Clutch fan to sport — at the very least — a semi under their gargantuan belt buckle. Though occasionally veering a little too much into just-for-obsessives territory, Live at the 9:30 is illustrative of how people really, really love Clutch, and, more importantly, why people really, really love Clutch.
The first disc of Live at the 9:30, a complete late-2009 show at — shockingly — the 9:30 Club in Washington, DC, is absolutely essential. Clutch are in their element in a live setting, and captured the way they are here — professionally shot with terrific sound — the experience is done ample justice. Everyone shines: drummer Jean-Paul Gaster sounds proficient on record but is a Bonham-esque monster on stage. Same goes for guitarist Tim Sult, who is way more than just a decent riffsman, manipulating sound while never managing to lose that Clutch edge. Fallon, enunciating less and thusly a mess of unintelligible hillbilly vowels, is endearing and magnetic, less frontman and more carnival barker. Even bassist Dan Maines is in top form, providing both a counterpoint for Sult and the touch-up glue that holds the band together. While their albums provide a sturdy (and entertaining) foundation, their live show builds a 50 story building on top of it. Performing their self-titled album in its entirety with a few more recent songs to flesh their set out, it’s a great illustration of how little has changed in the world of Clutch, even though — as evident when listening to their self-titled and Strange Cousins from the West albums back to back — so much has.
The second disc, a road movie called Fortune Tellers Make a Killing Nowadays, is where things fall apart a tad. Even Clutch fans may find the hour-plus road documentary a little too “fans only.” Of course, this isn’t to say that there aren’t some gems to be found on it: a band-relayed biography reveals that the y– when originally called Glut Trip — were incredibly close to being called Belt; the fan interviews don’t reveal much but do paint an interesting picture of the horde of people that adore the band; and while footage and interviews with Gaster often devolve into drum porn, the dude is a pleasure to watch, due to the fact that he’s a maddeningly excellent drummer. Some of the best parts are talking with contemporaries (Shavo from System of a Down, Wino, and members of Jawbox and Lionize, to name a few) and celebrities (a dude from Ace of Cakes… don’t ask how I know that) and seeing how charmingly disarmed they are in their love of Clutch. While it doesn’t amount to much more than your typical tour documentary, it manages to let Clutch’s appeal shine through: great music made my good dudes who just happen to be amazing musicians, and the devotees who love the shit out of them.
With a slew of releases and no doubt countless live shows over their nearly-two decades as a band, it can’t be said that Clutch don’t do anything for their fans. Live at the 9:30 is certainly no exception. Fortune Tellers leaves little to be desired in way of fan access, and the 9:30 concert itself is a decent snapshot of the dudes doing what they do best: pleasing those that stick with them. It gives you the sense that they don’t want to — or don’t even know how to — do anything else, which is a good thing. They seem to be lifers, and if Live at the 9:30 is any indication, there will be tons of people with them the whole time.
(3 1/2 out of 5 horns)