Ask me who the greatest live rock band in history was (or is) and I can answer definitively, authoritatively and absolutely: The Who, in their classic Daltrey-Townshend-Entwistle-Moon days. Watch The Kids Are Alright sometime if you don’t believe me. They were just unarguably great on stage. The greatest, in fact. End of discussion.
Ask me who’s number two and it gets a little fuzzier. (Don’t suggest Led Zeppelin to me, though. Watch The Song Remains The Same sometime if you don’t believe me, and see if you stay awake as the songs do, indeed, remain the same. Zzzz.) I think the greatest single concert I ever saw was Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in a creepy gothic worship space on the campus of Georgetown University in late 1990 or early 1991, when Marcia was pregnant with Katelin. The grandeur of the music and the space and the company conspired to make it magical, memorable evening.
Probably the greatest ongoing concert spectacle I ever watched was the Butthole Surfers through the mid-to-late ’80s at the height of their powers, when dancers, fire, film and music merged into an overwhelming audio-visual experience guaranteed to blow your mind everytime you got to see it.
I also experienced some awe-inspiring local shows here in Albany during the roughly ten years that I was reviewing music for Metroland and hosting Sounding Board on Time Warner Cable. The Hanslick Rebellion are, I think, the best live act ever to emerge from these parts, as documented on the absolutely essential The Rebellion is Here CD recorded at the much-lamented QE2. Small Axe also moved me powerfully from the stage, as did Beef and the Kamikaze Hearts. I feel fortunate to have experienced from the pit what I think was a particularly magic moment in the metal-to-hardcore world hereabouts, when the likes of Section 8, One King Down, The Clay People and Withstand were at the heights of their powers. They were all awesome live presences, and bore true testimony to the transformative power of homegrown, hometown music.
But if you had to pin me down to naming the second greatest live rock band in history, I’d probably pick the Pride of Maryland: Clutch. They offer pure rock fury that swings, along with some of the most inspired, insane lyrics ever produced from within the rock n’ roll idiom. (Right before the first time I saw them, circa 1994 or ’95 at the QE2, then-fellow Metroland scribe Tom Flynn recommended them to me by saying: “The craziest shit comes out of that guy’s mouth.” And he was right.) I think I’ve seen them eight or so times since then, and every show has been bigger and better than the one before it.
Last weekend, Marcia was out of town, so I was out looking for a movie to watch and picked up Clutch’s brand-spanking new live DVD, Full Fathom Five: Field Recordings, 2007-2008. Like The Kids Are Alright, it’s filled with just mind-blowingly powerful performances. Marcia’s also a Clutch fan, so when she got home, I watched the DVD again with her, and she noted she’d like to see them in concert sometime, having never done so. I went online to see if, perchance, they might be touring anytime soon, and lo and behold, we were delighted to see that they were playing at The Chance in Poughkeepsie Friday night.
So we made a quick post-work run down to the Mid-Hudson to watch Neil Fallon, Tim Sult, Dan Maines and Jean-Paul Gaster work their magic, first as their alter-ego instrumental jam-band, The Bakerton Group, then under the Clutch brand. The group has stripped back to the basics after a few years of touring with a keyboardist and occasional supplemental guitarist. For most of the show, Sult, Maines and Gaster handled all the instrumental fire, with Fallon picking up his guitar for some numbers later in the set.
The instrumental trio, as always, were all about getting down to the business of the groove: while Gaster got occassionally animated behind his drums, Sult and Maines were heads down over their guitar and bass, flexing their prodigious musical muscles. Frontman Fallon offered the riveting stage presence that made things explosive and electric. He’s got a physical, declamatory Old School Preaching style that makes you want to shout “Amen” and throw your hands in their air everytime he pauses for a breath.
It was an awesome show by a great, great, live rock n’ roll band, and I’m glad Marcia finally got a chance to see them whip an audience into a frenzy up close and personal. Don’t miss ’em if you have a chance to catch ’em. They’re something special.