I have never been to the Montage Music Hall before, but I was excited to find out it was only a few minutes from Eastman. Hopping on the Red Line, I made the trip last Tuesday to check out Red Fang, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, The Bakerton Group and headliners Clutch. The crowd was no doubt excited, and people were anxious in line as they were told that only 40 more people would be let in until the show would be sold out. Combined with the fact that it was cold and security had already given us the ‘no photo” speech seven times, fans were starting to get restless. Luckily, I had arranged to take photos beforehand, to which the press guy gave me my duct tape photo pass and pointed out my camera (‘You get into a sold-out Clutch show and bring a camera from the 1980s?”) before I headed into the slowly filling up concert viewing area.

Red Fang opened up the night and was actually surprisingly good. They suffered from the usual ‘first band on the stage sound not mixed quite right” syndrome, and throughout their whole set I had a hard time hearing either of the singers’ voices.

The band played pretty standard rock on the heavy end of the spectrum. However, the drummer really stood out, and between his count-offs and eye contact, he seemed to be the glue holding the group together. As far as first openers go, Red Fang was fairly enjoyable and worth looking into if you are interersted in heavier metalish rock.

After a surprisingly quick set change, Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band took the stage.

Only three people strong, this trio from Indiana put on the best set of the night and one of the best sets I have ever seen them play. Reverend Peyton himself turned the stagnant crowd into a moving, jumping and screaming mass, and with the rhythm section of his wife, Breezy, on washboard (yes, washboard washboard at a rock concert) and his brother, Jayme, on percussion and an empty pickle carton, the Big Damn Band played with a ferocity and intensity that even the heavier metal bands on the bill just couldn’t sustain.

Case in point: When a band makes even the people photographing the show next to me dance up and down, they know they are doing.

Ripping through tracks of their latest release, Peyton and company rarely took a chance to breathe, and if they did, it was only for Peyton to show off his impressive slide guitar chops while walking to the front of the stage and hanging out into the screaming crowd.

To end their set, Breezy set her washboard on fire yes, you read that right, she set her w-a-s-h-b-o-a-r-d on fire then kept playing it, until she finally swung it into a crash cymbal, when Peyton then jumped up and kicked it to the ground. And that only gives a taste of the energetic and explosive (and fiery) performance that Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band gave.

Up next was the Bakerton Group, a side project of headliners Clutch, who I expected to play earlier in the night. The bill advertised as having Peyton play the longer opening set before Clutch, and I must say that I really wish we had gotten to hear more of the blues-inspiried rock-a-thon that Peyon and gang presented instead of this side project.

That’s not to say that the group wasn’t enjoyed by some people in the crowd. Fans were playing air guitar right along with the licks, but I found the Bakerton group falling quite flat on my ears.

Slow and extremely repetitive, the band followed a formula of finding one lick that was cool and repeating it over and over and over and over again. The band’s excitement, when it did break through in a few good moments, was subdued and lacking. I wouldn’t want to take the stage after the energy that Peyton showed. They could at least look like they were having a little bit of fun.

Maybe stoner rock, or what have you, really isn’t my thing, but I was not at all impressed by their set. They had a few moments where they started something that sounded like it might be cool and then would quickly fall back into another repetitive riff-fueled lull.
My high school jazz band played songs that were more exciting than their set, and I’m not sure if they were going for a jazz/funk style or more of a laid-back rock feel, but they fell short by any measures.

As they left the stage, I was worried when the same people took the stage again as the headliners, now under the name Clutch. And while this may be a personal pet peeve of my own, who opens for themselves? It seemed a little bit odd to see the same set of players take the stage again after warming up the crowd for themselves. It just didn’t sit right with me.

Thankfully, headliners Clutch did in fact turn things up a notch, the vocals being the only difference between the two sets (the Bakerton Group and Clutch are composed of all the same people, apparently). The performance was notably better than the slow grooves of the Bakerton Group, and the deep vocals added a much-needed dynamic to Clutch’s set.

That being said, Clutch still did not put on the energy I had expected from this long touring rock band.

I was also disappointed once I noticed that the band’s organ player, who made their most recent album stand out that much more, was gone from what I saw of this performance. I left early to catch the shuttle bus back to campus, but saw enough to know that Clutch’s performance was not holding my attention as the band’s long reputation of playing had me believe they, like the Bakerton Group, did not come close to the passion that Peyton played with previously.

The other aspect of Clutch’s show that bothered me was the lack of audience interaction and participation.

Where Peyton was urging members of the crowd to join in on choruses and yell at the top of their lungs, the two guitar players from Clutch stood with their eyes glued to their guitars and their fingers, never looking out to the crowd or giving any notice to the fact that people were watching them. Guys, if you are going to play live, know your licks, so you don’t have to give your fingers all of your attention. At least look up and out at the audience sometimes. It was a dramatic shift in playing styles for sure, but long-term fans of Clutch did not seem to mind one bit.

But as an outsider looking in, Clutch was just not holding my attention like I had hoped or expected. I’m not saying they were bad, just that I was left hoping for much more: More energy, more crowd interaction and more of Reverend Peyton.

Clark is a member of the class of 2012.

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