On the surface, the teaming of alternative funk-rock trio Primus and Maryland blues-metal stalwarts Clutch may seem an odd match. But like the kid that’s too smart for the popular crowd but too eccentric for the art kids, neither band has ever really fit in with its given genre.
Yet they share a few distinctions beyond individuality. Products of the ’90s, both benefited commercially from the endorsement of “Beavis & Butthead” and nurtured die-hard fan-bases, packing sweaty clubs and winning over music nerds who hear the technical prowess in Les Claypool’s quirky bass mastery and Clutch’s Jean Paul Gaster’s go-go-influenced drumming – both essential to their sounds.
More than that, both bands are big on grooves, whether in a slow methodical jam or a boogie-ing punk-blues hybrid. Heads were nodding and booties were moving during both funk and riff-heavy sets during a fun, near-perfect-yet-soggy tour opener at Charlotte Metro Credit Union Amphitheater Monday.
Although the setting was fitting given Clutch’s history playing the Carolinas, concertgoers were still filing in midway through its opening set. By the time Primus hit the stage with “Too Many Puppies,” the seats were pretty full and the drops of rain forgotten. Giant LED screens winkingly projected images of marching soldiers and gas masks in the shadow of the red-white-and-blue-lit Bank of America building.
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It’s been 17 years since Primus headlined Tremont Music Hall on Valentine’s Day 2000, and its show has grown less frenetic and more visually engaging. At Tremont, I remember watching from the door to the big room because it was packed so tightly it resembled a cartoon drawing, where moshing bodies were stacked from floor to ceiling and fans emerge as if dipped head-to-toe in muck.
Monday’s aesthetic was more visually (and no doubt, aromatically) pleasing, though not as visceral as an uncomfortable club show. Accompanying films reflected the strangeness of their sound, mining footage from the ’60s that left me wondering through the sonic workouts why a Ken doll looked like James Brolin, who the blonde actress with the bob was, and who got polka-dot socks for Christmas during “Mr. Krinkle.”
Fans know what to expect from both bands. Claypool’s carnival barker delivery and the flow from laid-back funk to full-on controlled frenzy on songs like “Groundhog Day” (from 1989’s “Frizzle Fry”) drew roars. Primus’ set featured fewer songs than Clutch’s, but was theirs were longer, more fluid and psychedelic.
Clutch ventured less into jam-band territory – although they’ve been known to noodle as well. They plowed through close to 20 tracks, from the early favorite “Passive Restraints” to seven from its latest groove-rock heavy album, “Psychic Warfare.” The one-two slow-motion punch (given their tempos) of oldies “Escape From the Prison Planet” and the trippy “Spacegrass” were a nod to old-school fans of the breakthrough 1995 self-titled album that solidified their following here.
As with Primus, there’s room to improvise, and songs like “Quick Death & Texas” seemed more restrained than on record, with frontman Neil Fallon opting not to reach for the high notes on the chorus. The chorus for “Sucker for the Witch,” meanwhile, was dripping in reverb – the word “witch” echoed a good four or five times, to strange effect.
Neither group relied on hits, but gave passing fans a taste with Primus’ finale of its MTV hits “My Name is Mud” and “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver,” and Clutch coming closest with “The Mob Goes Wild” and last year’s “X-Ray Visions.”
But really who needs hits? There may not be complete overlap in the pair’s fan bases, but they didn’t come for a repeat of an album or to hear a song from the radio. Maybe that’s why fans (and the bands, for that matter) keep coming back.