Clutch and Valient Thorr at Town Ballroom (2011)

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If we have anyone to thank for last Thursday night’s cyclonic one-two punch of Clutch and Valient Thorr at Town Ballroom, I suppose Motörhead maven Lemmy Kilmister should be the recipient of our mirthful indebtedness. That’s right. The brusque, whiskey-soaked legend responsible for the metal epic “Ace of Spades” deserves some kudos for having such a keen eye when it comes to choosing his opening acts.

As Clutch vocalist Neil Fallon himself stated, “Every once in a while Motörhead takes a day off and allows us to play these shows” which, for those of us agog about taking in three hours of incendiary, testosterone-laced stoner rock, was music to our ears. The crowd may not have been the most colossal the venue has ever seen but, as one of my college professors always says, it’s about quality over quantity.

The first band of the evening was local band Low Road Revival, who came off as a hybrid of Pantera’s “Cowboys From Hell” twang and Crowbar’s vociferous vocal assault without the commanding stage presence needed to transcend the material. Lead singer Bob Bieber channeled Joe Cocker in his spasmodic arm flailing and drummer Mike Valenti pummeled his drum kit with balls-to-the-wall authority yet, for some reason, the whole set felt as if they were still inside the friendly confines of their North Tonawanda garage. I loved the aggressive intent, but directing a little more attention toward crowd connection would’ve gone a long way.

Valient Thorr hit the stage around 8:30 looking like the Hell’s Angels circa 1969 and tore into a screeching brand of what they call “Viking cock rock” like the aural health of the audience were but a distant afterthought. Their amps were turned up to 11 and then some throughout the 50-minute set and I don’t think I saw one soul standing still down on the floor. The atmosphere was vibrant, the solos were almighty and the room emanated an odor reminiscent of James Franco’s apartment in “Pineapple Express,” so it’s safe to say that Buffalo loves its hard rock with a passion.

To solidify the Nordic mystique, frontman Valient Himself split the crowd down the middle and proceeded to lead a rowing session in which participating fans sat behind him as if they were crossing the River Styx. What’s the significance of it? I’m not entirely certain, but it was a captivating sight indeed.

When Clutch finally came out at 9:45, the crowd greeted them with a rapturous ovation and songs such as “The Mob Goes Wild,” “Texan Book of the Dead,” and “Slow Hole to China” sounded as taut and menacing as ever. You don’t get a lot of egotistical flaunting from this band, because they’re too caught up in the methodical flow of the music to care about petty distractions. They have the anarchic tenacity of a punk band combined with the chilled congruence of a psychedelic jam band, so dull moments were few and far between. Neil Fallon ran the show like he was spearheading a social insurgency and those clinging to his every word would probably rise up to fight if he asked them to, which speaks to the cult-like following they’ve cultivated through the years.

I’m sure that having Motörhead on this bill would’ve been special, but I’d say that Clutch and Valient Thorr did just fine navigating through the sputtering spotlights on their own.

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