This a concert review that is more about a beer than a band. Rather, this is a beer review that is more about a band than a beer. Or how about, this is a review that is about a beer that is named after a band who played a concert in honor of their beer. The band and the beer are called Clutch. The beer hails from Colorado. The band has its roots in Maryland. The concert in honor of the beer was at The Red Palace in Washington DC. The events that follow took place on Sunday night.* It was awesome and I’m sorry you weren’t there.
But really few people were. The performance space at Red Palace was full of people but since it’s a tiny space it could only hold so many. All told about a 150 lucky Clutch fans piled into the Red Palace for a free show by the band. So relatively speaking to the Red Palace, there were ‘a lot’ of people there. But compared to your standard Clutch show at 9:30 Club (or at HFStival the day before), you could say this beer show was quite exclusive. But exclusive sounds kind of stuck up and this event was far from that. In fact I would describe Clutch the band and this event as the complete opposite of stuck up. So instead let’s describe this concert with one of the region’s, nay, the country’s best rock bands as limited edition. I like that. Music collectors enjoy things that are limited edition. Usually we’d use the term to describe an object, but I think it’s safe to use it to describe this intimate free concert. I mean how often do you get to pile into a tiny room for free, drink a mighty tasty beer designed by one of your favorite bands, then listen to them play five or six rare ‘acoustic’ arrangements, before having your face rocked off when they unleash Pure Electric Rock Fury in the form of monster jam versions of some of your favorite tunes?
All anyone really knew about this event was that it was a beer launch for a beer designed Clutch and that the members of the band would be in attendance. We knew it was free. We knew space was limited. We assumed there would be music. And then we heard rumors it was an acoustic mini-set. Which in and of itself would be freaking cool to see. If you know Clutch’s music, it is hard-charging plugged in rock-n-roll. The band isn’t exactly known for acoustic performance. In fact I think they just had their very first acoustic in-store performance a few days before. So seeing a mini-acoustic set by Clutch was a rarity in its own right and that was enough to pique my interest.
The line was long to get into Red Palace, but moved fast and it looked like everyone who wanted to get in got access. At least from the initial line; people may have been turned away later. The Red Palace felt a little less than capacity but comfortably full. True to the flyers, members of Clutch were mixing it up with the crowd. Shaking hands and smiling with gratitude as fans congratulated them on getting a beer named after them.
A mighty fine beer I might add. I would call it a chocolatey stout.** It came in 22oz bottles at $20 a pop. Normally I would balk at this price, but I considered buying a bottle my cover charge for the free Clutch performance. I got two and a half glasses out of the bottle and a decent buzz before the show started.
One of the owners of New Belgium Brewery (and a self-proclaimed life-long Clutch fan) introduced the band and presented them with a special bottle of Clutch: Dark Sour Ale with the production line number “10001110101” (PS- this is the title of an amazing Clutch song). The New Belgium Brewery owner said that as a beer brewer and as a music fan creating the Clutch beer is the pinnacle achievement of his career and presenting the band with it was one of the coolest moments of his life.
With that Clutch took to the stage and played “half a dozen of these acoustic songs before” they “figured something else out.” For Clutch acoustic really means Tim Sult switched his electric guitar for an acoustic and the rest of the band stay plugged in. So not quite an old school “MTV Unplugged” but it did force the band to rearrange the songs in a way that really accentuated Clutch’s blues-rock elements. “Regulator” and “Who’s Been Talking?” sounded great but their album versions are admittedly pretty acoustically arranged to begin with. I think my favorite of the acoustic songs was “Abraham Lincoln” because it felt the most distant from its album version. Plus when Clutch does songs such as “Abraham Lincoln” or “I Have The Body Of John Wilkes Booth” I always picture front man Neil Fallon as some kind of touring rock musician cum armchair Civil War scholar.***
With the acoustic set wrapped up, Neil and his band mates all sort of looked at each other and I guess passed signals like baseball base coaches or something. Because they worked out a set list on the fly pretty quickly as they plugged in and re-tuned for the unexpected and special treat of full electric Clutch doing what Clutch does best: rocking faces…off.
The audience, myself included, were quickly swept up in the furious whirlwind of unadulterated Clutch power. Not only did Clutch burn through about six or seven songs (including a new one), they did so in a loose jam-oriented way that made this special intimate concert even more unique. Jean-Paul Gaster in particular was on fire making each song his own and inserting not one but two SICK extended drum solos into the set. Often the band would use jamming as transitions to the next song, creating the effect of super medleys. The best of all being the “Big News I” into “Big News II” monster-jam.
With a small special event like this, you have to figure the crowd are going to be into it. The audience did not disappoint. From joking around with Neil between songs to going absolutely bat shit crazy during the plugged-in songs the crowd were ‘plugged in’ the entire time. The band seemed to have as much fun playing for their die hard fans as the audience had listening to them rock out. It was a class act event all the way around and I have to say, this was one of my favorite events of the year.
* The event to launch the New Belgium Brewery beer flavor “Clutch: Dark Sour Ale” was originally set to take place in August; it was rescheduled due to the hurricane to take place this past Sunday. I am really glad that it was rescheduled; if it had taken place in August I would have had to miss it while I helped my wife protect our newborn son from Irene.
*** While this image does amuse me, it would also be so fucking bad ass if it were true.