Sound — 8
YouTube has practically taken the live bootleg business out of business in the last two to three years. One of my favorites had to be a live performance from Clutch filmed during the band's early years. There was something about Neil Fallon's fevered, almost manic stage presence that really resonated with me. This was from a period in Clutch's career where they had more in common with the blunt aggression of hardcore than the blues-boogie of their more recent output. With each passing record, the band's guitar sound lost a lot of its overdriven crunch in favor of a stripped-down, far more organic tone. The material garnered Clutch raves from both critics and fans alike. But in the process, they might have lost some of their earlier, metal leaning fans. Luckily, the band's PR person sent me Full Fathom Five, their newly released live DVD/CD package. Compiled of five separate concerts spanning two continents, the footage finds the band firing on all cylinders. How could this beast fly under my radar for so long?
Content — 7
With so many years of studio recordings under their collective belt, Clutch had the daunting task of picking set-lists that would please their fervent fans. Ultimately they do a masterful job of cherry-picking songs that really are custom-made for a live setting. The Soapmakers from their The Elephant Riders album comes off especially potent with Dan Maines' bass guitar ripping through the mix with commanding force. His rock-steady presence is the Clutch's secret weapon. Check out his fluid runs on Escape from the Prison Planet for further proof. Not to be outdone, Jean-Paul Gaster lays down some of the fattest drum sounds this side of vintage Bill Ward. With so many overly-technical drummer aided bands crossing my desk lately, Gaster's less-is-more playing-style is a welcome breath of fresh air. The bass drum sound on these recordings just pummels while maintaining an air-tight and locked-in groove with Maines' bass guitar lines. Some of the songs that sounded somewhat stilted on their studio albums come off far better in the live arena. Tim Sult's guitars and Fallon's preacher-like vocals captivate the crowds like some sort of rock-n-roll sermon.
Production Quality — 7
The electrifying performances are mightily captured and produced by the folks at Agent Ogden and like the band that they shot, they keeps things straight-forward and economic in their presentation. This is the exact kind of visual treatment Clutch needed. The band doesn't rely on histrionics and the kind of bombast many of their counterparts do. Agent Ogden instead showcase the band's formidable playing skills. Andrew Alekel's audio mix is spot-on with each instrument's personality shining through each selection.
Overall Impression — 8
Sometimes you'll hear people defend a band by saying things like, you should see them live to really get it. This definitely is true in the case of Clutch. Even though I had seen the band early on in their career, I had lost interest in their studio offerings and stopped paying attention. With Full Fathom Five, not only was my interest piqued again, I am now a full-believer in the group. When it comes down to it, Clutch is a band that is best captured and seen live. This is not a slight on them in the least. Actually, it's the complete opposite. In this day and age of Pro-Tools and Auto-Tune aided bands, finding someone this monstrous live is extremely rare. Younger bands should watch these performances to see how it's truly done. Hopefully Clutch can carry this exciting spirit into the recording studio next time out.