Not necessarily as hippie as a jam band, yet not quite metal, Clutch more resembles a harder, amped-up version of the blues: It's like when Muddy Waters sang "Mannish Boy," but with a slightly punk attitude and narratives spanning everything from pirates, UFOs and paparazzi to smoking spacegrass with Jesus Christ.
Clutch's harsh, deep grinds brought blues back to hard rock in the '90s, and in recent years the quintet has started to embrace that ferocious blues feel even more, leading up to its next album, From Beale Street to Oblivion, due in March. "There's some songs that are definitely familiar Clutch territory," frontman Neil Fallon says, "but there's other songs, like 'Electric Worry' and 'Black Umbrella' that are more of a blues ... It's not Stevie Ray Vaughn and it's not Robert Cray, but you know it's going in a certain direction."
Since releasing its first EP in 1992, Clutch has established a unique sound, while at the same time covering constantly shifting ground, from jazz to blues, funk to hard rock.
"We're not trying to repeat anything," says Fallon, "rather we're just following our instincts. If we can listen to it and say, 'This is good,' then if the rest of the world wants to listen to it, that's cool too. Maybe it's because we kind of created our own little microcosm, and maybe the rest of the world likes to look in, instead of us trying to chase something."
This tendency to drive its music ever inward has earned the band fans from across the musical spectrum. In fact, Clutch almost never turns down a tour -- the band has shared bills with a wide range of acts, from System of a Down, Sepultura and Marilyn Manson to Run-D.M.C. and Apex Theory, Days of the New and Puddle of Mudd. "We'll really play anywhere and anything," Fallon explains. "You really can't preach to one choir too much.
"We do a different set every night," he adds, "which I think people do appreciate, especially when they come to a series of nights. They know that night is special; we're not playing the same set lists [or], God forbid, playing to the same DAT tape.
"And it's a real stripped-down show. We kind of do cabaret lighting, there's no foreboding intro tape and fog. You just get up there and do the show with everything you got. To me, the live show is more important than anything else. That's sort of the temple of it."
You can catch Clutch on Dec. 27 at Mr. Small's Theatre, a venue the band is fond of. "It's got great acoustics, cool interior," Fallon enthuses. "The dressing rooms are the old house for the parish priests or what have you. It's a cool place; it's different from your average nightclub." It's also a great spot to see this decidedly cool, different-than-average hard-rock band.
Clutch with The Sword and William Elliot Whitmore. 9 p.m. Wed., Dec. 27 (doors at 8 p.m.). Mr. Small's Theatre, 400 Lincoln Ave., Millvale. $20 ($22 day of show). 21 and over. 412-821-4447 or www.mrsmalls.com