I want to start this review with a huge thank you to my fellow Kentuckians. Lexington in particular, has never really been known as a “metal community.” In all honesty, it still isn’t, but Saturday night at the Manchester Music Hall, you folks delivered like I’ve never experienced you in roughly 18 years of going to concerts.
First, you sold-out Manchester Music Hall. Second, I saw ZERO fights despite massive amounts of liquid courage being consumed. As a whole, the night was a wet, sweaty, loud celebration of four great bands doing their best to deliver a show like no other.
Did y’all succeed in making a fun and loving atmosphere for the bands? I say, yes. Yes we did. So much so that Clutch frontman Neil Fallon said, “You guys are making this too easy.” Referring to the participation and sheer enjoyment that was had by all. So good on you, Central Kentucky. I’m super proud of ya!
If you weren’t at Manchester Music Hall or didn’t hear about the show, Clutch brought The Bronx, Red Fang and Fireball Ministry to town on the last stop of their Spring tour.
First up was a band that I have always enjoyed, but had never had the opportunity to witness in a live setting. Fireball Ministry are a band that was conceived just up the road in Cincinnati. The band moved to New York City before finally settling into Los Angeles as their new home. So this show was somewhat of a homecoming show with many friends and family in attendance.
Fireball Ministry has long been a personal favorite, but despite many great opportunities, the band never had that major breakthrough in sales. They also went through several member changes over the years. They released their latest album, ‘Remeber The Story” in 2017 after a hiatus from recording.
Despite the lack of a major breakthrough, Fireball Ministry has became a legendary underground band that has influenced many of today’s great bands. In fact, Fireball Ministry are an influence on the nights headliners in Clutch. Founding guitarist/vocalist James A. Rota II had a side project with Neil Fallon called “The Company Band.”
One of my current favorite groups, Kyng, were so heavily influenced by Fireball Ministry, that they tapped James A. Rota II to co-produce their release, ‘Burn The Serum’, which was released back in 2014. James A. Rota is an ordained Minister and his influence is most obvious on their single, “Electric Halo.”
Saturday’s lineup saw 3 of the original 4 members of Fireball Ministry. The newest member needs no introduction to any true “Stoner Rock” fan. Mr. Scott Reeder joined the lineup back in 2014. Scott Reeder has been a part of so many influential projects that I could likely write an entire article on him alone. With his long hair, wild stage presence and the fact he usually plays barefoot onstage has always led to me referring to him affectionately as, “Captain Caveman.” Here are just a few projects that Mr. Reeder has been involved with; Kyuss, Orange Goblin and Unida. He even spent some time as a touring member of Tool.
It may have taken me almost twenty years to finally see Fireball Ministry, but it was well worth the wait as they played my top three tracks; Flatline, Sundown and King. I was totally blown away and absolutely honored to photograph their set.
Next up was a band that I’ve also been a fan of for years. They first caught my attention with their viral video of “Prehistoric Dog.” It’s still one of my favorite music videos ever created.
I’ve followed these guys for years as well. I’ve even had the privilege of interviewing bassist/vocalist Aaron Beam, as well as drummer John Sherman over the years. It was great to finally get to catch them live.Their energy and musicianship was a definite highlight for me. In my opinion, if you watched Aaron Beam at all, you would have had a great time. He smiled from the first note till last, clearly having a blast and enjoying the crowd.
Highlights for me included “Blood Like Cream”, “Wires”, “Hank Is Dead” and of course, the aforementioned “Prehistoric Dog.”
The Bronx are a band that I never dreamed I’d see live. Their sound leans more so towards punk than anything, and if I’m honest, I’m just not a huge fan of punk. So most of the tours the band has been on over the years, just didn’t appeal to me enough to make the effort. My personal favorite album by The Bronx, is the 2013 release (IV). That album, for me at least, was the right balance of aggression, hooks and production. A bit more polish than the band had shown in the past.
The Bronx are great musicians and you’ll be hard pressed to find anyone with more energy than vocalist Matt Caughthran. He was jumping, bouncing and dancing from start to finish. He mentioned that he’d gotten laid the night before, so I guess he was energized. Lol Matt also spent three songs in the middle of the crowd, leading the pit while performing vocally. Fans were certainly caught off-guard, many of which quickly took to their phones to record the moment.
If I may say one thing here, put down your damn phones and enjoy the moment. Live it! Love it! Forget about sharing it to be online cool. Put it away and experience the energy, passion and electricity of creating a lasting memory that, if you ever have any children or grandchildren, you’ll share with them. They’ll see the joy and sparkle in your eye as you share with them, the EXPERIENCE. A crappy cell phone video will never convey your heart in that moment.
Anyways, I digress, The Bronx were incredibly raw, energetic and focused. Their 40 minute set wore me out just watching it. If you enjoy experiencing music that moves you, make it a point to go see The Bronx.
Oh, and by the way, I’ve always wanted to see their Mariachi tour. Which if you’re unaware is aptly titled, Mariachi El Bronx. After this performance, catching their Mariachi set just moved up my list of importance.
It was now time for my personal favorite band to take the stage. The men that make up Clutch, have been a huge part of my life’s soundtrack. I remember the moment that I first heard Clutch. It was 1998 and I was 22 years old. I had made a friend, who was a few years older than myself. We were hanging out and casually listening to a rock radio station out of Louisville before we left the parking lot to enter into work that night.
We were really not paying much attention to the radio when all of a sudden, the opening riff of “The Soapmakers” caught our attention. We likely looked like dogs in that moment as we both tilted our heads and stared at the radio simultaneously. We were hooked immediately, then this voice came on the radio. It was unlike anything either us had heard before. It had an odd accent, told a very strange story and it totally captivated us both for the next few minutes. That voice, as it turns out, belonged to Neil Fallon.
That moment began a musical live affair that will likely never be topped in my lifetime. That moment led me to buying every album I could find from Clutch. It led me to this night, which was my eleventh Clutch show.
My son, Davin, was born in 1997 and this happened to be the first Clutch show he was able to attend. Most Clutch shows within traveling distance have taken place in bars, which has often meant the shows were 21 and up. So after a fellow writer wasn’t able to make the show with me, my son came along and helped me shape the article that you’re currently reading. After I thought about, who could have had a better perspective to share than a truly lifelong fan? Clutch has been in his life since he was less than a year old.
I had often described a Clutch performance to him as the best live band that I’ve ever experienced. I’d explain how Neil Fallon is almost like a preacher and how Jean-Paul Gaster makes more sound out of only two toms than most any drummer out there. So I decided to ask Davin’s take on their performance and here’s what he had to say.
Having a Dad who is so into music and does all that he does within the industry has been a wild ride. He has taken me along on many performances over the year, but there have been two bands that have been a constant in my life. Clutch and Alice in Chains. I’ve been lucky to see Alice in Chains twice with Dad, so I was really excited about the chance to see Clutch. He’s told me so much about them over the years and we’ve spent many days traveling with the windows down, singing along to Clutch, so I was excited when he asked me to be involved.
One of the things that I want to mention that Dad has always said, is that Neil Fallon is like a preacher. He has always said that some artists just perform, others captivate, but Neil Fallon commands the audience. I totally get what he means now. Neil is this force onstage. As he points to the crowd, they point back. If he lifts his arm, they bounce and almost every lyric is spit back at him. That’s incredible considering the immense knowledge and wild stories that Neil’s lyrics evoke. Jokingly we agreed that Neil is almost a cult leader like a Jim Jones, minus the insanity and kool-aid. As harsh as that is, it’s actually pretty accurate.
Another point that Dad has always said about Clutch, is that they’re the Phish or Grateful Dead of Stoner Rock. I never really thought about that until I saw all the different state license plates in the parking lot. Clutch really does have a traveling fanbase much like those artists I mentioned and it was a wild ride, but a very rewarding one.
There were so many songs that I am a huge fan of, but I kept catching myself focusing on Neil and Jean-Paul or JP as he’s often referred to. I mean no disrespect to guitarist Tim Sult or Bassist Dan Maines, but Neil and JP were captivating and I couldn’t take my eyes off of either. I’m actually surprised I didn’t wind up cross-eyed trying to watch both simultaneously. All I can say about the information that I’ve shared about what Dad has told me over the years, is he’s 100% correct. I’ve never witnessed anyone control a crowd so quickly or easier than Neil does. It was an incredible performance by all and one that I will never forget.
I really became a huge fan of Clutch when I was about ten years old. Dad often played the CD ‘Blast Tyrant’ and said that album was their Magnum Opus for most. As I have been digging into their music since then, I can truly see what he meant by that now. The sound on that album has been consistent throughout their music since its release and as they played an explosive set on Saturday, that became even more evident than even I thought. The grooves, the tones and the pace were consistent as the crowd ate up every syllable and note.
For me, seeing tracks like “Pure Rock Fury”, “X-Ray Visions”, “Firebirds”, “Spacegrass”, “Cypress Grove”, “Earthrocker”, “Electric Worry” and “The Mob Goes Wild” made for perhaps my favorite concert experience yet. As I mentioned, I’ve seen a lot of acts with my Dad. Rock acts like Rival Sons, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Shinedown, Black Stone Cherry, Halestorm, John Fogerty and even Joe Bonamassa several times. Even country giants like Garth Brooks, Alan Jackson, Chris Stapleton, Tyler Childers and Blackberry Smoke. Shoot, we’ve even seen some pop stars together like Lady Gaga, but none of em move an audience like Neil and Clutch. I was already a big, big fan of the band, but after Saturday night, I’d call myself a huge Clutch fan now.
We were also treated to two new songs that will be on their new album (Apparently titled ‘Book Of Bad Decisions’), that they announced will be out in September. “Gimme The Keys” and “Spirit of ’76” were included, my initial reaction was that they were focused heavily on the melodies with a more simple structure, especially in the verses, especially “Gimme The Keys.”