I'd been looking forward to this show for a LONG time. For a number of reasons. First, Clutch is my favourite band, DURR. And it had been over three and a half YEARS since I'd seen them. An event now known as "The Incident". But that's a blog post for another time. On top of that, Orange Goblin had never played Toronto before. Therefore, I'd never seen them play. I've been a fan for over a decade so I was stoked. I'd caught the tail end of Lionize when they toured with Clutch a few years ago but I remembered almost nothing. And lastly, I saw a Scorpion Child video on youtube and was looking forward to hearing more.
In my excitement (and anticipating heavy traffic) I left my house way too early and showed up at the venue over two hours before doors. I doubled back to an Asian market and bought some food. I wasn't eating no bar food, I can tell you that. But I should have checked the ingredients on the (super-calorific) Vietnamese red bean pastries. Lard. Fucking lard! Read beans, I'm thinking all vegetarian and stuff but no. Wasted a buck fifty. Almost sat down on the curb to eat right by a discarded condom. Listened to the new Black Sabbath track (meh). Exciting stuff, I know! So with like an hour before doors I headed over to the venue and sat in the parking lot watching the weirdos roll in.
Once inside, and thankfully with no guest list issues, I chatted it up with fellow Hellbound.ca writer Gruesome Greg. I was almost as excited to meet him as I was to see the show! Almost. It was really cool to finally put a face to the name. As well as spend some time with a handful of other friends I don't see nearly enough. Alright, alright. Enough preamble.
First band to hit the stage was Scorpion Child. As I said, I'd watched a video for "Polygon of Eyes" on youtube and liked what I saw. To my delight, they did not disappoint. Heavy on the Zeppelin and other 70s rock acts influence, their style fit perfectly with the other bands on the bill. Despite the crowd being comparatively sparse, they played like the house was packed already and the crowd responded. Their enthusiasm was unflappable. Hair flying, guitars raised, drums being handily abused, and vocalist Aryn Jonathan Black slinking around the stage belting out the tunes with dynamic range. His passion, as was the rest of the band's, was never in question as he engaged the crowd and even sang much from his knees, compelled by the power of music. And yes, they did play "Polygon" after which Black quipped, "Now that that's out of the way.." They knew what people wanted to hear. Their album comes out June 25th on Nuclear Blast and you can bet they made some fans who'll be checking it out. Myself included.
I'd been looking forward to seeing Lionize again. From what little I could remember (Re: "The Incident") I dug their vibe but for some reason I never took the time to check them out between then and now. Well, because I can never get enough Clutch, I won't be over-looking Lionize anymore. It's obvious they hold Clutch in high regard as, to the unseasoned listener, you could be forgiven for mistaking the two bands. The most glaring differences being the vocals and their use of keys (although Clutch did for a time). Their laid-back, grooved out rock with bluesy influence gave the crowd a taste of what was to come yet allowed the gathering to hold some energy in reserve. Especially when they pull a little Sublime out of their sleeve and add some reggae flavour to the recipe. While I found nothing to complain about, the highlight of their set was the jam session. I couldn't see the stage well, but I heard something change. A shift in position revealed Clutch's Tim Sult up on the stage with them! There's no mistaking his sound. A few minutes into the jam Orange Goblin's Joe Hoare also grabbed a guitar and joined in. At the end of it, Lionize guitarist/vocalist Nate Bergman sort of, apologized, for it. Hey man, no apology necessary! That's what live music is all about!
By the time Orange Goblin took the stage for their first ever Toronto show, the Sound Academy was about as packed as it was going to get on this evening. And the assembled mass was ready. When the OG boys walked out on stage they received a welcome a headliner would be proud of. And for the love of Sabbath, Ben Ward is a beast. I had heard he was a large man but until you see him in person, you never really know. Never mind his well-seasoned vocal attributes, his mere presence demands your attention. And what a frontman he is. Stalking around that stage with his fist(s) raised and pumping, he makes it his mission to ensure the crowd is amped. How could you not get behind a band who's singer air guitars just as hard as anyone else there? Any Goblin fan worth their weight in salt was sure to be pleased with their set. Not surprisingly leaning on tracks from 2012's Eulogy for the Damned, they played a selection from across their career. Orange Goblin's high-octane, blooze-fueled stoner metal ran the gamut with cuts from the more psychedelic Frequencies From Planet Ten and The Big Black through to the newer stuff and even included a number of songs I was shamefully unfamiliar with. (Which will be rectified, whether you like it or not.) Ward's between song banter showed how appreciative the band was of the reception they received and the crowd responded in kind, pumping their fists and banging their heads ever harder through set closer "Scorpionica".
At this point one could be fully satisfied that they'd received their money's worth on any given night but there was still possibly the greatest touring band on the planet yet to come. Clutch. I'm not just saying that because I think they're the best. Their reputation as world class performers should be well known to anyone reading this.
By this point there was a healthy percentage of the patronage well acquainted with the bar staff and as such the buzz of anticipation was almost a physical thing. Any flicker of movement from the area of the stage lead to a chorus of hollers from the uninhibited. The glowing Clutch logo of the backdrop cast an eerie light over what was soon to become the highlight of any given attendee's week/month/year. When the fantastic foursome of Neil Fallon, Tim Sult, Dan Maines and JP Gaster took the stage they received no less than a hero's welcome before launching into the set with a trio of tracks from the recently released Earth Rocker in "Crucial Velocity", "Book, Saddle and Go" and "Cyborg Betty". The band's motive towards Earth Rocker was to create an album with good energy from front to back and lend itself to being played well live. Starting the show with those three only proves that their mission was accomplished. Here Fallon states "We're only three songs in and you're already the best crowd we've had all tour!" I like to think he wasn't just saying that. What followed was a set heavy on Earth Rocker cuts but featuring a splendid selection of tracks from Elephant Riders on. What Clutch show in Canada would be complete without "The Mob Goes Wild" and the lines "Everybody move to Canada. Smoke lotsa pot. Everybody move to Canada, right now."? It's a given. It's expected. And it's probably the only time EVERYONE sings along. (I suspect "The Yeti" is a must when they play in Winnipeg as well.)
Part of what makes Clutch such an amazing live act, in addition to their near-encyclopedic knowledge of their own material and subsequent varying set list, is the jams. On this night, not one, but two songs were extended by the magnificent jams of these four individuals that just know each other so well. "D.C. Sound Attack" and "The Soapmakers" got the extra time as well as a sweet drum solo from Gaster. He's just such a unique talent. He thinks drums differently while not thinking about them at all (at least while on stage). Sult and Maines were in their familiar places to the left and right of Gaster, respectively, as Fallon stalked the stage in his usual animated fashion. He's almost like the director of a travelling sideshow, waving his hands around with sweeping gestures and finger pointing. His captivating stage presence enthralls the onlookers and innocent bystanders, demanding their attention. (Which baffled me all the more that there were people NOT paying attention. For shame!)
The low-key "Gone Cold" gave the crowd some time to recharge before finishing the set with "The Face" and "Oh, Isabella" and closing with a crunchy version of "Dragonfly". But the closing number is never the closing number with Clutch. Returning to another raucous reception, the Maryland quartet wowed the crowd with an encore of "Cypress Grove", "Electric Worry" and "One Eyed Dollar". The closing words being "Today's our day!" a fitting end to what was unquestionably Clutch's day indeed. Clutch never fails to deliver and this night was no different. While I personally would like to have heard at least one song from their self-titled, I was by no means disappointed. In fact, it was quite possibly their best performance I've been witness to. Start to finish, every band put on an excellent show, complimenting each other in one way or another. The lesser known Scorpion Child and Lionize no doubt won over some new fans. Orange Goblin as well, while reaffirming their might to the previously converted. And Clutch? Well, Clutch proved yet again that they are an untouchable live act, thrilling fans young. old, drunk, stoned, sober and of almost every conceivable hard rock/metal subculture. Because hey, that's the name of the game.
Full Set List:
Book, Saddle and Go
The Mob Goes Wild
DC Sound Attack
Unto The Breach
Open Up The Border
One Eyed Dollar