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You decide: Notes from the Clutch show, or how to replace the clutch on your Honda.

Big News
By John Brodeur

Clutch, Mastodon, Nebula
Saratoga Winners, Feb. 11

Despite years of fervent protest, I’ve finally allowed myself to admit that, as far as heavy music goes, I’m a little close-minded. All the Limp Bizkits and Puddles of Mudd have soiled the institution I once held sacred, and for some time now, it seems I’ve been missing out on some really good stuff, labeling it guilty by association. My hesitations toward hard rock and metal have been matched only by my hesitations toward polka and new-Nashville country. And groin surgery. That can’t be any fun. Thankfully, I was able to stop vacillating long enough to make the trek up Route 9 last Wednesday, and was rewarded with a diverse lineup of no- bullshit rock & roll that just happened to be pretty damn heavy to boot.

Clutch have established themselves as a kind of cockroach to the hard-rock circuit. In their 12 years on the scene, they’ve recorded for no less than four labels, and battled near-obscurity and a certain level of indifference from the mainstream, yet somehow have maintained their unique and singular path with all four original members intact. That’s the power a band who clearly get off by playing together have over those that are concerned with sticking to formula and writing the next “hit.” That’s not to say Clutch are devoid of formula—odds are they won’t be drastically altering their sound anytime soon—but there is a constant stylistic metamorphosis inherent in their stone(d) groove that keeps it from getting stale.

Dig if you will the picture of Led Zeppelin, Parliament-Funkadelic and the Allman Brothers Band getting together in a nitrous-oxide-filled freight elevator to jam on Minor Threat covers. That’s about what Clutch sounds like. Kicking off the festivities with the title track from the recent b-sides compilation Slow Hole to China, Maryland’s finest thundered through a roughly 90-minute set, tapping into large chunks of their early catalog and introducing a number of new songs from the upcoming Blast Tyrant’s Atlas of the Invisible World Including Illustrations of Strange Beasts and Phantasms (they’re calling it Blast Tyrant for short, thankfully).

These Clutch guys can dig into, sit on top of, and hang around a liquid groove, then catch you completely off-guard with a musical head-butt like “Pure Rock Fury” or the skittering “Rats” from their debut, Transnational Speedway League: Anthems, Anecdotes and Undeniable Truths (are these guys taking creative advice from Fiona Apple or something?). Bassist Dan Maines personified the band’s no-frills, workmanlike aesthetic as he plugged away, head down and bobbing, all baseball cap and Fender P-bass. Meanwhile, oddball vocalist Neil Fallon barked out lyrics that fell somewhere between surrealist, mystical and just plain odd. He wandered back and forth, coloring his phrases with facial tics and appearing generally a little bit wobbly, then put his foot through that veneer with moments of stunning, ferocious lucidity. The “Big News” medley and “Spacegrass” from their self-titled second LP were the night’s big votegetters, and for good reason: This is where the many disparate elements of their sound came together in swampy, crunktastic, powerful unison.

Being unfamiliar with the opening acts, I came away more than a little surprised and impressed with the rest of the bill. Although Clutch clearly were the band of the hour, the crowd had large factions dedicated strictly to each of the openers, and I can see why—the headliners were nearly upstaged by their own support. Atlanta’s Mastodon dazed and confused the huddled masses with a selection of prog-metal bashers from their upcoming second album. Midway through their set, a pit opened up in front of the stage, although the “dancing” more resembled a bunch of dudes doing wind sprints. Brann Dailor’s jazz-informed drumming is positively dizzying, like a steroid-pumped Dave Weckl, and the band’s nontraditional arrangements make them truly stand out. One new song had them cruising from cacophonous double-kick thrash to a Rushy instrumental workout, with a guitar break that sounded like something borrowed from an Ozark Mountain Daredevils LP.

Nebula brought the evening’s only smoke machine, which earned them a little extra credit before they even played a note—after all, you can’t smoke in bars anymore, so the kicks gotta come from somewhere. Sure, the smoke rose directly upward at center stage, making it look as if the monitor wedges were on fire, but it still served its purpose. Oh, and the music rocked, too. Nebula’s bearded, sunburned, Budweiser-fueled acid rock puts them on less of a parallel with contemporaries like Queens of the Stone Age than it does with turn-of-the-’70s bands like Iron Butterfly and Deep Purple. The bass-heavy sound mix was lung-collapsingly powerful and drowned out most of the lyrics, but I know there was a tune about some kind of farm that was pretty cool, and one entire song sounded like the coda from “Iron Man.” I also know that I’m glad I showed up early, and I promise I’ll have no reservations about this type of show next time around. Unless it has something to do with Limp Bizkit or Puddle of Mudd.

Got Your Money

Ol’ Dirty Bastard
Pearl Street Nightclub, Northampton, Mass., Feb. 12

“It’s all about money. It’s a job to me. I don’t really care how people see me anymore. It’s all about making money so I can have something for my little babies. That’s all. I gotta get that money. Money!” declared rapper Russell Jones, aka Ol’ Dirty Bastard or Dirt McGirt, in an interview with Time Out New York a couple of weeks ago. Since his release last spring from an upstate New York prison where he was incarcerated for nearly three years on probation violations and drug charges, ODB—oft cited as the most eccentric member of the groundbreaking rap collaborative Wu-Tang Clan—has let it be known that he’s all business these days, more concerned with making bank than reprising his gonzo crackpot image. He’s sure wasted no time in getting his career rolling again, signing with powerhouse Roc-A-Fella Records (home to Jay-Z) the day of his release, finishing work on a new album due in March, launching a Dirt McGirt clothing line and filming a VH-1 reality show called On Parole with ODB.

Who can blame the guy, really, for making cash his primary focus these days? At least he’s honest about it. I bring this up only because during ODB’s show last Thursday at Pearl Street Nightclub in Northampton, Mass., it was sometimes hard to tell whether the rapper’s disengagement stemmed from a take-the-college-kids’-money-and-run sort of attitude, whether his heart just wasn’t into it, or whether a limited role in his own performances is all he can handle right now (a short stay in a psychiatric hospital followed his prison sentence, and he’s reportedly on medication).

After a fairly entertaining set by Vermont rap duo Rhythm Ruckus, who had a Run-D.M.C.-meets-Tenacious D sort of vibe, ODB’s multitude of Pearl Street fans patiently endured a wait that far surpassed the normal, let-the-crowd-get-good-and-hyped, post-opening-act intermission. To chants of “Wu Tang,” ODB’s longtime backup crew the Brooklyn Zoo eventually took the stage with ODB nowhere in sight. Led by a rather large rapper named Buddah Monk, who appeared on the first two Ol’ Dirty Bastard solo albums, the Brooklyn Zoo did their best to prime the crowd, encouraging all the women to move to the front of the stage (OK, they said the “hot girls”) and then launching into a number fronted by Monk. When ODB nonchalantly walked onto the stage during the second song, “Hippa to Da Hoppa,” I probably wasn’t the only person just relieved to see that he was actually in the building. Dressed in a white Bermuda hat and a white track suit, ODB didn’t look unwell or out of it, just somber and perhaps a bit uncomfortable.

Luckily, ODB chose his backup crew well, because the four MCs in Brooklyn Zoo compensated for the frontman’s gravity with a heap of arm-waving, stage- dancing enthusiasm and constant attempts to involve the crowd in the show. Their only misstep was belaboring “Child Support,” ODB’s unfortunate (for a guy who has fathered 13 kids) polemic about women who sucker men into fathering children and paying for child support. The predominantly young, college-age crowd either didn’t relate or looked vaguely uncomfortable (I’m willing to bet that a lot of collective hours in women’s-studies classes had been logged by that room) and the Zoo probably should have cut short their failed attempts to rally men around the song. The crowd got back into the game when ODB yelped the vocals to his psycho-anthem “Shimmy Shimmy Ya,” which sounded great, redeeming the rapper’s staid performance up to that point. ODB then took a seat to the side of the stage, nearly invisible to the crowd, where he munched a piece of fruit while the Brooklyn Zoo ran through a few more rap tunes that showcased the vocals of Monk and the other backup MCs.

As ODB returned to the show, Monk invited young women from the audience to come on stage and dance. In an unintentionally comic, or perhaps tragic, moment, one of the Zoo members then announced that all the women should get around ODB to dance. “No, I’m cool,” said an obviously uncomfortable ODB, shaking his head to ward off the gesture. He performed two of his signature tunes, “Got Your Money” and “Dirt Dog,” to the delight of the audience, before grabbing his arctic parka and leaving the stage. As capable as the members of Brooklyn Zoo were, and as enjoyable as ODB’s brief set was, I probably would have felt cheated had I paid the night’s whopping $28 entry fee. Two kids on the way out just seemed disappointed. “He didn’t do my song, ‘Rollin’ Wit You,’” said one. “You don’t know how much I wanted to hear ‘Shame on a Nigga,’” said the other.

—Kirsten Ferguson

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