On paper, at least, it looks like a strange marriage.
The dense psychedelia and foreboding prog-thrash of Mastodon and the gritty, earthy stoner-metal of Clutch suggest an uneasy union. But when “The Missing Link: Mastodon & Clutch” tour stopped by the Rapids Theatre for a sold-out performance on Wednesday night, such suppositions were proven to be wrong-headed. It worked. The “Missing Link,” as it turns out, is a daring approach to modern heavy music that satisfied fans of both bands, and quite likely, made converts out of listeners whose allegiance had been to only one of the two bands prior to the gig.
Clutch, the Maryland-born band of brothers whose members met in high school, played first. Fronted by singer Neil Fallon, the group brings a salt-of-the-earth demeanor to a genre generally given to flash and overstatement. Dressed in T-shirts and jeans – and with the exception of a logo-emblazoned backdrop above drummer Jean-Paul Gaster, devoid of production frippery – Clutch took the stage to a rapturous roar from the crowd, and set about turning the next 90 minutes into a tour through its own history, which dates back to 1991. An emphasis on material from its most recent effort, the critically lauded “Earth Rocker,” was to be expected, and the anthemic title tune from that album came early in the set, setting the mood.
Clutch is a bit of an anomaly in the context of modern metal – heavy, bluesy riffs form the core of the group’s sound, which often offers nods to classic heavy outfits like Mountain and the deep-fried southern boogie of ZZ Top. The aggressive post-blues of “Led Zeppelin II” also is a touchstone for the group. When Fallon sings above all of this in his thick and commanding upper baritone, the effect is striking.
Fallon strutted about the stage, gesticulating like some hybrid of a mad carnival barker and a Baptist preacher. Guitarist Tim Sult hunched over his Gibson SG spitting out the riffage with an unflinching virtuosity. Drummer Gaster coaxed serious thunder from his small kit, and though his normal rhythm section ally, bassist Dan Maines, was otherwise occupied by the arrival of an addition to his family, Gaster found an able partner in erstwhile Fu Manchu bassist Mark Abshire, who subbed for Maines.
“Profits of Doom,” “D.C. Sound Attack!,” “Crucial Velocity,” “Unto the Breach” – Clutch played all of these with unbridled ferocity, but there is a subtlety in their art, too, apparent in the interplay, which suggested a telepathic connection between the musicians.
A tough act to follow, then, but Mastodon was up to the task. The quartet’s latest effort, “Once More ‘Round the Sun,” provided the core of the set’s material, and it is a ferocious collection of epics. A pair of new tunes kicked things off in the form of “Tread Lightly,” a galloping prog-metal masterpiece, and the title tune, a veritable orgy of intertwined guitar harmonies, blistering solos, and abundant shifts in tempo and time signature. The Rapids crowd responded with much head-banging, the periodic eruption of mosh-pits, and the odd crowd surfer.
The Georgia-born band succeeded by overwhelming the senses and engaging the brain, in equal measure. Mastodon offered a master class in modern metal dynamics, but also suggested that it occupies its own plot of land within the heavy music landscape – the band’s progressive rock roots run deep, and its ability to make complex music sound organic and natural is without parallel amongst its generation.
Mastodon & Clutch? In modern metal, this was about as good as it gets.