As we prepared to welcome 2017, 2016 proved that it had a little life left in it when Clutch came to the Sands Event Center in Bethlehem on December 29th…
I had no idea what to expect with the Mike Dillon Band but it was one of the stranger openers I have encountered in a while. Mr. Dillon was joined by a group of young musicians: a guitarist, bass player/keys player, and a drummer while he was playing an assortment of percussion instruments. The first few tracks were instrumental and a taste of what was to come. It was loose, jazzy and had a bit of an improvisational feel, at times. From there, vocals entered the fray and they were often reminiscent of Les Claypool but with a bit of a punk rock edge and penchant for lyrical weirdness. A song about an unsanitary salad bar will check that box. Things ended with a cover of my favorite Dead Kennedys’ song “Kill The Poor.”
Mariachi El Bronx followed and leant even more variety to the evening. For those that don’t know, this is the alter ego of punk rock band The Bronx augmented by some additional musicians and playing straightforward mariachi music. They played selections from their three full-lengths (especially III) and certainly established a party vibe. One song, “Norteno Lights,” warranted the inclusion of accordion to mix things up. The whole thing was just as good as I had hoped it would be.
Clutch came out and did what they do: plug in and play with frills kept to a minimum. They began the set with “Cyborg Bette” and alternated between songs from their latest release Psychic Warfare and Earth Rocker. This included “Decapitation Blues” which was a recent highlight for me. This brought them to “The Mob Goes Wild” which dipped into some older material but is always a fan-favorite. All told, a huge percentage of the show was made up of tracks from their two most recent albums which suited me fine, though there were a number of older tracks mixed in there. It’s obvious what material the band is excited about. As an added bonus, there wasn’t that much overlap from when they had last played in Bethlehem.
To conclude the main set, Mike Dillon joined them for a loose, jammy version of “D.C. Sound Attack.” A brief pause and the expected clamoring from the crowd brought them out for an encore starting with “Electric Worry.” The evening concluded with the first single from Psychic Warfare, “X-Ray Vision.” It was a bold move to do that instead of an old favorite, but it worked.
Before all of that, I was lucky enough to interrupt a drum warmup session to sit down with Jean-Paul Gaster of Clutch. We talked a lot about Psychic Warfare, how they have evolved, side projects, their record label, their beer and much more.
Words: JJ Ellis
Photos: Henry Chung