Clutch invites us to celebrate 30 years of Rock and Roll with them at the Fillmore in Detroit with guests Nate Bergman and Stöner.
Rocking for 30 years with Clutch
I’m not sure why it feels amazing to think that the guys in Clutch (Tim, Neil, Jean Paul, and Dan) have been rocking together for 30 years. I’ve got friends I’ve known for over 40 years. I suppose the key is that I’m not working and traveling with my friends for a good portion of each year. Clearly, the members of Clutch have a deep love for each other, their music, and their fans which have kept them bonded for all this time.
I remember first seeing Clutch on Headbanger’s Ball playing the video for “A Shogun Named Marcus”. The burly jams struck a chord. From the first sweaty pit in Royal Oak, the intimacy of The Machine Shop in Flint, the old Orbit Room in Grand Rapids, to here at The Fillmore in Detroit, myself and my buddy Jeff have loved experiencing the pure rock fury of Clutch.
My very first concert photography gig was Clutch. I emailed them saying I had a ticket and would it be cool to photograph them. It was clear, I had no business being in the pit. I’d taken a few pictures with a point and shoot at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads festival and figured how hard could it be? Fuck around and found out. Thankfully Clutch has been cool enough to have me back a few times since.
Splurging on VIP
As a Christmas gift, I sprung for the VIP soundcheck with Clutch. Sadly, due to the pandemic, there isn’t a traditional meet and greet. However, I’m grateful we can at least see a show with a bit of safety knowing everyone is either vaccinated or tested negative. We arrived early to validate our vaccinations with the venue staff and mask up for the soundcheck.
Clutch treated us to three tunes that weren’t on tonight’s setlist including “Wicker”, “Willie Nelson”, and a new called “Slaughter Beach” from their forthcoming album which should be out sometime in 2022. It was a thrill to get a taste of being behind the scenes. It was also sort of odd not to be yelling my head off or feel the press of the crowd. After three tunes, Clutch thanked us for our support and we headed out. With some time to kill before the show, we made a break for some grub and a couple of pregame beers.
The VIP line allowed us to get in first and snag a sweet spot in the Fillmore to catch the show. Not long after doors, the house lights dimmed and the solo voice of Nate Bergman filled the air.
If you’ve seen the band Lionize, then you are already somewhat familiar with vocalist Nate Bergman. Nate received a last-minute call from Clutch to cover the opening slot. Native Howl had been slated to do this run with Clutch, but unfortunately had to drop out after a couple of shows.
Where Lionize plays rock, Nate is more soul with brushstrokes of Americana and blues. He kicked things off an acapella song, his voice high, clear, and emotive. Working with a Gibson acoustic and a Fender telecaster, Nate played music that brings to mind greats such as Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Steve Winwood.
Referring to the stack of Marshall’s behind him, Nate joked with the crowd that this bit of Newport Folk fest was nearly over. I’m sure some fans were anxiously awaiting Clutch, but I found Nate’s performance uplifting and very satisfying.
Palm Desert legends Brant Bjork (guitar) and Nick Oliveri (bass) have teamed up with Ryan Güt (drums) to form Stöner. Riding in on a woolly mammoth of fuzzy riffs and sonorous rhythms, it is time to enjoy some heavy grooves.
Opening up with “Rad Stays Rad” sets the tone. Nick and Ryan slide into the pocket with a groove that you can feel. Brant’s easy vocals and warm guitar add to the feeling of cruising. Top down man, we aren’t hitchhiking anymore, we are riding.
Nick takes on the vocal duties on the post-punk thrill ride called “Evel Never Dies”. The bite in his vocals adds to this tune’s brilliance. Stöner ended their set with the epic and super doom-licious “Tribe / Fly Girl”. This psychedelic sabbath caps off a sweet set. Stöner rules!
Under blood red lights, Jean Paul rolls on the snare and we are bouncing to “Passive Restraints”. This got the pit roiling just a few feet from the stage. Security was great and let folks release some steam, but kept the crowd surfing to a minimum. After talking with a security guard pre-show, I don’t envy having to handle a bunch of bodies flying over the barricades.
Clutch continued on with the first side of the Passive Restraints EP with “Impetus”. While everyone in the band sounds tight, I have to call out Jean Paul and Dan. The drums and bass are hearty shots of rock steady groove played with a belly full of fire. The electric shock of live music runs up my spine as Neil barks “I will not relent! I will not relent!, I will not relent! I AM DRIVEN!”
The beers are flying and the pit keeps busy with “Power Player”, “A Quick Death in Texas”, “Rats”, and “Pury Rock Fury”. I took a look over to my right where Jeff had been to find he was no longer there. I figured he’d gone out to get a beer, yet he returned somewhat sweaty and without a beer. He shouts over “Yeah, I had to get into the pit. I may be 58, but I just had to. The call was too strong.” Laughing into the roar of Clutch and remembering great fun in the pit, I’m glad my friend still has it in him.
The new song “Strive for Excellence” off the forthcoming album is true to the Clutch stylings while swinging the time signature just a tad. As always, Tim is the master of the riffs creating another highly addictive tune. Clutch closed out their set with the crowd favorites (or at least my favorites) “X-Ray Visions” and “Firebirds!” before heading off stage.
After a break just long enough to maybe grab a quick swig, Clutch is back in action. They go old school with “The Mob Goes Wild”, “Escape From The Prison Planet”, and the bongzilla of hard rock masterpieces “Spacegrass”.
One lyric from this final monumental song rings out “Whenever it feels right”. This show with Clutch feels right. Yes, it feels so damn good. It feels like home. It feels like I’m living the best I can. Oh yeah, it feels right.
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