Live Review : Clutch + The Picturebooks @ The Academy, Manchester on December 20th 2018

Before I was able to rationale an argument against religion I often found myself as a child, stood behind a lectern reciting a letter from the Corinthians or some such babble to the elderly parishioners of Kirkby.  Now as a young boy I didn’t know much about a rabbits dick, but I’m fairly certain not one person mentioned within the New Testament, called Jesus “a shit stained cunt”.  Alas the sheer misery of negotiating Manchester’s gridlocked streets took its toll on Johann.  That was just the start.    

We finally parked, at no small expense and jogged up to the Ritz, breathlessly meander the security, two pat downs for me.  At the ticket window, Johann notices a familiar bulge is missing.

Johann : “Phone’s still in the car!”
Ticket lady : “We don’t have you down on the list”
Johann : “It’s ROCKFLESH, Johann ROCKFLESH”
Ticket Lady : “I’ll ask someone” Ticket lady speaks into the walkie talkie, indistinct chatter comes back.
Ticket Lady : “It’s OK, you’re sorted.”

Johann beams, I can sense his pride, the years of slog are paying off.  We wander into the Ritz, it’s empty bar a handful of indie kids and one man on a stage with an acoustic guitar with, in HUGE  back lit, white letters “MONA”.  “This isn’t Clutch?” I express my fear. Johann agrees.  On the door a printed piece of A4, black, impact, font 72 “The Twang + MONA”. 

“Who the fuck is Mona?” we laugh as we jog back to the car, hostages of a city at a permanent red light.  We are less than twenty minutes, it cost a fiver, shit stained cunt.  We finally arrive at The Academy, Manchester.  Sail through security, It is, and I do not exaggerate, uncomfortably busy.  Shoulder to shoulder, balls to butt busy.  The support act haven’t started, I find a small space leaning into the nook of the fire exit, with an unobstructed view of the stage. A commotion in the crowd causes a parting and security escort a man through my prop.  In his fifties, bespectacled, not the sort of dude to get launched but the band haven’t started and its eight.  The beer’s been flowing and the drinks are thankfully well priced.    

The Picturebooks are a two piece, formerly three piece, slide heavy American rock blues hammer fist of a band.  Managed, promoted, sound engineered and orchestrated by their father and former German skateboarding champion Clause Grabke.  Fynn Grabke on Guitar and vocals has the air of Charles Manson with the personality of a Duke from Hazard.  Crazy, friendly with a killer slide and chainsaw, well maybe a hedge-trimmer vocal.  The first thing that strikes you is the drummer, Phil Mirtschink, he slams those drums with the precision anger of a Baghdad bound jdam and keeps railing away throughout the whole set.  He flexes an industrial shaker back over his shoulder and out with a mechanical salute to now uproarious Manchester crowd.  With four albums in the bag, a long departed bassist and an already well travelled set of passports , The Picturebooks have a wealth of songs with which to warm up the gloriously drunken Manchester crowd. 

A small group of varying aged men stand closely to the left of me.  A man in his twenties approaches them, awkwardly, with a little stagger.  He takes one of the most telegraphed swings in human history at one of the group who at the last minute leans back to avoid the haymaker.   A small scuffle of nearly formed punches and spit ensues and as suddenly as it began it ends.  The aggressive interloper swallowed by the crowd.

Zero Fucks Given’ belts out, the crowd jumps and punches the air in unison.  The bombast blows away the drunken brawl from memory.  The steady and bellowing pound of Mirtschink has everyone moshing along.  ‘The Rabbit and Wolf’ takes the heat and pace anew.  The Picturebooks are a firebrand of an opener, the bareness of the heavily distorted slide and the bone crunching drums give extra gravitas to the band.  They stroll off stage, guitar feeding back, slumped to the floor like you are after that first night with a new lover, sweating, waiting, staring up at the ceiling wanting to be used again.

Clutch take an eternity to get on stage, the crowd are restless and more people are ejected via the side door.  Another fight erupts, the same group as before, the same antagonist.   It’s more aggressive and one of the men shouts for security.  No one comes and the angry young man slips again into the anonymity of the crowd.  There is a thirst, a dire need for another scene, another group of high energy rock and metal bands to dominate our minds and quell the frustrations of our world.  This is why, on a dreary Thursday night, a band formed in 1991 and who have released twelve albums can fill the Manchester Academy.  We need rock as much as we need life. 

From the outset, every word of every lyric is sang, shouted & prayed.  There is a rapture to the fever of the crowd.  The music is crisp, calculated, the guitarist and bassist are static.  Watching every note, they are precise.  They kick off the night with ‘How to shake hands’, a funky, heavy tune.  A hint of Liam Lynch, surf rock with the attitude of the now middle aged generation X.   The energy is almost entirely coming form Neil Fallon. Lead vocals and guitar.  “First thing I’m gonna go for a ride on a UFO, put Jimi Hendrix on a twenty dollar bill and Bill Hicks on a five.” Who can’t get behind that?  His simple yet flawlessly executed spoken vocal infects the crowd.  A simple mix of danceable tunes and deep American posturing.

With twelve albums to pick from, they can fine tune a high quality set.  ‘Mice & Gods’ from 2010 release Robot Hive/Exodus get the crowd jumping “Fire it up, fire it up”.  The pogoing beings with an electricity rippling right to the back of the room.  There’s a funk, a sticky rhythm to the flow, ‘A Quick Death in Texas’ maintains that bouncing vibe.   I move to the rear of the room, the sporadic kick offs are getting tiresome and I defo can’t afford to lose a pint, never mind the phone I use to make notes.  The intro to ‘The Regulator’ takes the heat out of the crowd a little, lots of bathroom breaks.  Neil Fallon is a third hipster cool and two thirds hillbilly superhero.  The braggadocio vocal sounds like a rousing speech and completely infects the crowd.  There is an earnestness in his complete pronounciation of every word.    

In walks Barberella has the whole crowd, right to the back wall dancing, alone, together and as one.  “…Weaponised Funk…” is as accurate as I could write, self-prophetic lyrics.  ‘Spacegrass’ has that slacker vibe, like Cake, or maybe a hillbilly against the machine.  I always loved this music, the anger of Rollins or Anselmo but with a toned down Tom Morrello. Let the vocals own the listener. “…Once Around The Sun…” floats across the crowd, there is a silence, a pause.  ‘X Ray Visions’ smacks the night out of the park and into a new year.  This crowd is one of the best I’ve seen, they were ready for all kinds of hell.  From front to back they danced, fought, sang, rocked and left the real world behind while we all joined Neil Fallon on a journey through America. “Psychic warfare is real”.

What did we learn? What should we have learnt?  ROCKFLESH is gaining & growing, MONA is still a mystery, Jesus is a shit stained cunt and there is gap that widens every month that needs a fresh, explosive band to fill.  Until then we have nights like this. 

Words by Paul Flett
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki