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"Live at the 9:30" DVD Review

Posted: 05/21/2010

Nearly 20 years of working on the gig-and-purge shift has allowed Clutch to really refine their collective vice-like grip on their material, and man, does it show on their exhilarating two-film, two-DVD set. Live at the 9:30, features the entire thrust of their 90-minute gig from Washington D.C.’s 9:30 club on December 28, 2009. Fortune Tellers Make a Killing Nowadays, another 90-minute film, follows the Maryland band from the western United States to eastern Canada, offering behind-the-scenes footage, interviews with the band, crew, management, and fans in every city along their path.

And these fans are loyal. This is a Maryland band that has slowly metamorphosized out of the dawn of the grunge and post-hardcore era, and found itself with a completely unique sound, which gathers together strands of hard rock, metal, prog, psychedelic shades and colors, and funk to create a genre onto themselves. With nary a nod to current influences, Clutch manages to sound fresh and contemporary by focusing on the almighty riff as its core foundation. The D.C. gig, which includes the band covering their entire 1995 self-titled album, sandwiched in between old and new favorites, is excellent and quite a souvenir for that longtime fan, or an opportunity for a new fan to see what it is this quartet does to keep its groove.

Band interviews feature each musician discussing how they continue to work on their craft, and hone their sound to perfection, keeping themselves open to new ideas within their two-decade adventure. Frontman/vocalist/guitarist Neil Fallon is the soul of the band, crafting ingenious reams of lyrics while roaring out vocals on stage. Bassist Dan Maines with his witty asides and textbook engine room rhythm work helps solidify the band’s sound. Lead guitarist Tim Sult, with his classic Gibson Les Paul guitar, Marshall and Orange amp setups, offers hard rock motifs and psychedelic imagery, which is also almost AC/DC meets Parliament/Floydian in its simplicity, but also damned original.

However, one thing is strikingly obvious as both films unfold in a truly memorable and exciting fashion. It’s drummer Jean-Paul Gaster’s world. We just live in it. The skinsmith comes across as an expert student of the drum kit, even practicing after gigs according to stage manager and drum tech, Chase Lapp. But the veteran drummer is also an insightful spokesman for not only his band, but rock music, in general. One can tell that the man likes to have his fun, but he also has that timeless laser-like focus on his work, which is quite compelling to watch. Indeed, after watching and listening to numerous drummers over the years, one is hard-pressed to find a more inventive, powerful, and talented drummer, outside the likes of Led Zeppelin’s John Bonham.

Both DVDs are superb audio and visual documents, which help underline the fact that many have followed in the wake of their 1991 debut—indeed, the second DVD includes 1991 and 1992 archival footage—playing variations of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, or, even earlier, Black Sabbath and Blue Cheer, but few bands have been as consistently true to its essence with the dynamic vigor of a medieval craftsman’s perfectionism as Clutch.

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