What exactly is an “Earth Rocker“?
With renowned rock band Clutch, whose latest studio album happens to go by that very name, spending a night in New York City’s Terminal 5, I was determined to find out.
Opening for the night was Lionize, a band with a fascinating mix of reggae and rock. Lionize happens to be the sometimes-side project for Clutch guitarist Tim Sult, which explains their inclusion in this tour. While I didn’t get a chance to see what their set list looked like for the night, I did enjoy the overall sound of Lionize. They received a rather warm reception as well for those that arrived at Terminal 5 in time to see them.
Next in line were hard rockers, The Sword. I haven’t seen The Sword live in almost 4 years, having only caught them live back in 2009 when they opened for Metallica. Coming to the stage draped in darkness with a touch of blue light, the band opened with The Sundering, and quickly switched in to the opening track from their latest album Apocryphon, The Veil of Isis. That first time that I caught The Sword live, I was seated high in the upper levels of an arena, looking down at the band like they were ants. This time, I was up close an personal with them, and what a difference it made. Guitarist Kyle Shutt was easily the most entertaining band member to watch, strutting back and forth along straight right, head banging along with drummer Jimmy Vela, all with his long blonde hair flying in the air.
Cloak of Feathers, another new track from Apocryphon, was one of the first highlights of The Sword’s set. If there is one new song in the band’s catalog that really works well live, its this one. Many members of the audience were now jumping along with The Sword, and even a few singing along with guitarist/vocalist JD Cronise.
Towards the end of The Sword’s set, while playing one of their most well known singles, and one of my personal favorites of theirs, Freya, I was blown away when mid song, the band switched over to a cover of ZZ Top’s Cheap Sunglasses. The song is included as a bonus track on their new album, but I certainly didn’t expect to hear it. With a near flawless execution, hundreds of people went crazy when The Sword slid in to the cover. While I was watching from next to the soundboard in the back, I saw a group of people who were chatting with one another at the nearby bar, sipping on drinks, pull a complete 180 and run from the bar to as close to the stage as they could get right as the band tore in to the first riff. After about 2 minutes of ZZ Top, they stormed right back in to the last part of Freya. For me, this moment stole the show.
One bittersweet touch of the night was how between sets, whomever was in charge of the PA song selection chose to play only songs by Slayer. As the news of the passing of songwriter/guitarist Jeff Hanneman had only broken a few hours before the show, I’m sure many in attendance were not entirely aware as to why, but did not question it. The fiery thrash metal of Jeff’s songs, “Angel of Death“, “War Ensemble“, and “Raining Blood“, at the very least helped to keep the adrenaline pumping.
As the stage was cleared to simplicity, with just a few amps, a handful of pedal boards, and a normal sized drum kit at the center of the large Terminal 5 stage, the four members of Clutch took to their positions and rolled right into the title track and latest single, “Earth Rocker“.
Neil Fallon is such a unique front man to watch. While he doesn’t run around the stage, and he doesn’t jump in to the crowd. What he does, is pace the stage, a wireless microphone in hand, commanding the audience. For the chorus of “Earth Rocker“, Fallon would crouch down with one leg extended, and wave his free hand across the crowd, as he sang the lyrics, “I’m an earth rocker! Everybody hear me now! I’m an earth rocker! Everybody get the message? BUHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!” His antics, while over-exaggerated never come off as cheesy. He’s as unique as they come.
After only the first song in Clutch’s set, I had my definition for what an “Earth Rocker” was: someone that is here to rock, and to roll, and if you don’t like it, and don’t want to hear it, then you can GET out! With a loud cheer and applause for their first song, I could tell everyone at Terminal 5 were ready to become Earth Rockers themselves.
Two more Earth Rocker tracks were rocked through, “Book, Saddle & Go“, and “Cyborg Bette“. The way the band flew through them, there seemed to be no pause between the two songs. I guess time flies when you’re having fun.
Taking a break from new songs, Clutch brought the mosh with one of my personal favorites, “The Mob Goes Wild“. While there was a bit of pushing and shoving in the pit prior to this song, once Mob began, bodies started to float over the barrier, and no one on the ground near the stage was safe. The moshing would settle down afterwards for most of the night, with just a handful of participants and crowd surfers from then on out.
A few more songs in, Fallon grabbed a cowbell, banging away at it for another new one, “D.C. Sound Attack!” Shortly after, Fallon addressed the crowd for one of the few times he did the night, saying, “This next number goes out to the ladies. Especially the ones that don’t take any crap“. With that, the played another from Blast Tyrant, Cypress Grove. A great mid-song jam had a few people in the back of the venue cheering and yelling out, “Do it again! One more time!”
Once Fallon was presented with a guitar, many knew it was time for another one of Clutch’s most loved tunes, The Regulator. With Fallon and fellow guitarist Tim Sult combining warbling guitar lines, the crowd clapping along, and drummer Jean-Paul Gaster’s simple but effective snare rolls, the song had chills running down my spine. Maybe it was from the very effective use of the song in the television show, The Walking Dead, but I had a feeling I can’t quite describe after hearing this particular song played live.
By this time, I had found a nice spot on the third floor of Terminal 5 to catch not only a full view of the band the stage, but those moshing close to the stage as well. Breaking in to another new tune, Oh, Isabella, Clutch brought a sound that was eerily similar to that of The Sword earlier in the night. Much of the head banging I witnessed for this song was quite similar to what I saw during The Sword. Even more ironic, is one of the lyrics during the tune, “Kneel at the sword!” Intentional or not, I’m not entirely sure, but it sure was a solid choice.
With my new view, I caught the remainder of the set, including Gone Cold, The Yeti, Electric Worry and more. Clutch played well in to the night, playing for nearly two hours time. After stepping from the stage for a short time, they returned to finish with Crucial Velocity and Burning Beard. A simple “Thank you New York City!” was said by Neil Fallon, followed by him grabbing a set list and passing it to a fan at the barrier.
While I think Clutch was great, and the newer jams that the band played certainly go over well, I couldn’t help but feel that The Sword stole the show. While they weren’t the headliners and didn’t gain as much attention, to my ears, they sounded so tight and their new songs work so well live that they were the crowning jewel of the show. Mixing ZZ Top with Freya? Genius. Pure genius.
For Clutch tour dates, click here.
For The Sword tour dates, click here.