Clutch – The Picturebooks – Inspector Cluzo: Live at Academy, Manchester (UK)

 

A last gig of the year sees me take in the familiar sound of Clutch, with dual support from Inspector Cluzo, a Funk/Soul n’ Roll duo from Gascony, France, and German Blues-Rock act The Picturebooks. After a brief chat with Jean-Paul from Clutch prior to the gig, I took my place up to take in the evening’s entertainment.

First on are Inspector Cluzo, with the 2,500 capacity room approaching a fifth full already. They are chatty and entertaining from the start, as they introduce and explain themselves as being French, but not from Paris, which they don’t see as part of France, bringing a few laughs from the crowd. They’ve been given half an hour, quite generous by opener standards, which they use to decent effect, though the sound seems a touch flat at times, maybe with the lack of bass player – though the band’s motto is, “fuck the bass player”, so maybe an extra pedal?

They are funny and likable enough, with their songs garnering more applause from the crowd as they work their way through the set, even getting a reasonable response on a sing-along halfway through. The crowd swells and as the last song sees the taking apart of the drum kit by the guitarist, while he plays it, which goes down well. They get a good response at the end and a reaction of them being – quoting a friend – “weirdly good” seems quite apt. A surprisingly good opening act!

The Picturebooks take to the stage and I’m on to safer ground now, having caught them a year ago at one of the HRH events in Sheffield. They sound instantly heavier with their Rock so drenched in Blues that no eyelids would be batted should they claim to be from the Mississippi Delta itself. It’s a lot more solemn and serious than our opening act, but highly impressive all the same. A fair few phones go up, as people record bits to remind themselves, or to post on social media, with others moving side to side or nodding heads.

Finn apologises a couple of times for swearing, as he spots a younger fan in the audience, which is taken in good humour, before carrying on with the set, with the duo really rocking out with the crowd. The final track sees the audience sing loudly along to the catchy chorus, “Your kisses burn like fire” to quite some effect before the band thank the now capacity crowd and take their leave.

Time for our headline act now and Clutch, as always, really know how to get a crowd going. They switch their setlist quite drastically every night, so there is no hint at all of what’s to come – as it turns out, we are about to be blasted with ‘How To Shake Hands’ from the off, taken from this year’s effort The Book Of Bad Decisions (Weathermaker) – a sign of things to come. The crowd are immediately up for it, though they seem to slack off slightly to the next couple of tracks, as ‘H.B Is In Control’ and ‘Mice And Gods’ follow immediately after, getting a decent audience reaction, but not to the level of the set opener.

This was all about to change again, though, as Neil Fallon is already having songs shouted at him and someone has guessed right – Neil acknowledges them as Clutch launch into ‘A Quick Death In Texas’, with the crowd loudly joining along in the chorus. The atmosphere dips slightly again – a portent of things to come when older tracks are played – as ‘50,000 Unstoppable Watts’ blares out across the large, packed tight room. A big change to previous setlists next, as ‘The Regulator’ comes on – again to loud acclaim both during and after the track – as it hasn’t been played over the last couple of weeks and the one that more than anything I personally had been hoping would be included in the set, before ‘Paper And Strife’ and ‘Emily Dickinson’ follow behind to the slightly muted reaction.

Another step back to The Book of Bad Decisions, as ‘In Walks Barbarella’ is next up from the band, with the shouts of “Weaponised Funk” ringing out as loud from the crowd as the large PA system, though ‘Gravel Road’, a deeper cut from the mid-2000s, seems to perplex a lot of the audience, more than anything else, as it’s clear a large swathe of the audience don’t know it by the lack of movement nor singing.

We have five tracks left in the main part of the set now and the pace is lifted somewhat by another track from the latest album, as ‘Gimme The Keys’ rings out, and the crowd are back with it again – a slight pity, as Gravel Road is a helluva track on its own merits and should have received a better response, before a trip back to the very early career of the band, with psychedelic rock track ‘Spacegrass’, which again seems to lose a decent chunk of the crowd.

An audience member has again got Neil’s attention, this time with a pair of maracas, where Neil cheekily enquires about them, before deciding they are standard tuned maracas and will be of no help on the next track, which elicits a laugh as they move on to three of their biggest tracks of the night in ‘Hot Bottom Feeder’, breakthrough single Electric Worry and a slight drum solo straight into ‘X-Ray Visions’, all of which go down exceptionally well with the throngs gathered in front of the band.

The band quickly leave the stage and take a longer than usual time to retake it, with some leaving due to the confusion over quite how long the wait is. It’s time for one last foray on to The Book of Bad Decisions for first encore track ‘Lorelei’, which seems to be a lot slower than some want, as a few more make their way through the doors, before the title track from 2013’s Earth Rocker (Weathermaker) brings the show to a close, to further confusion, as Neil has to come back to the microphone to ask the sound technician to play some music, as he doesn’t seem to realise it’s over. A great evening, as always, with two excellent support acts.

DJ ASTROCREEP