Wednesday · Bogart's
Heavy and silly are like pumpkin pie and whipped cream: fine by themselves, but exquisite together. Clutch gets the mixture just right, bridging the gap between Kyuss and System of a Down. Mixing '70s Arena Rock riffs with intense funky flavors and humorous variations for over a decade, they manage to be ceaselessly experimental while always appealing to their fist-pumping fanbase. Neil Fallon's vocals are one of the elements that set them apart from their "Stoner Rock" peers. At times drawing heavily on Mike Patton's guttural calisthenics, while elsewhere veering closer to Ike Willis' scratchy Soul, his witty lyrics and possessed delivery demand rapt attention. The remainder of the troupe churns out consistently crunchy rhythms and amped-up guitar grooves. Their studio releases have documented them spinning off in many directions, including bone-crushing Metal, unapologetic jamming, solid Bluesy Rock and flavorful Funk. Each album tends to be an island, standing as singular works, with each having its own unique flow. Some are mixed bags of tempo extremes, some are style-shifting explorations and others keep sonic continuity with a steady musical theme. Clutch's upcoming release, Blast Tyrant (due March 30 on the new DRT label), is a return to more variation in arrangement and instrumentation, following the straightforward energy of 2001's Pure Rock Fury.
The band attempted to capture the essence of their inimitable concert performances on their previous disc, Live at the Googolplex, but the results were mixed. A collection of favorites performed across the U.S. by these road dogs, Googolplex was little more than a mix tape and a reminder that there is no substitute for actually experiencing Clutch's legendary live show, where their irresistible stew really boils over. Bring a bib. (Ezra Waller)
Thursday · Southgate House
With the release of his 1969 debut album, the unassumingly titled 12 String Blues, Leo Kottke did nothing less than reorder the way in which the world considered the acoustic guitar. Kottke's innovative and percussive finger-picking style transformed the instrument from a passively melodic accompaniment strummed at the back of the stage into an aggressive and exciting lead force in the spotlight. Along with John Fahey (who signed Kottke to his Takoma label for one album in 1972) and Peter Lang, Kottke was recognized as one of the most important evolutionary figures in Folk and Acoustic music. Over the course of the following three-and-a-half decades, Kottke has constantly set the bar for acoustic guitarists, releasing over 20 albums featuring his blazing fret work and occasionally his oddly affecting baritone vocals (which he once described as sounding like "geese farts on a muggy day"). In the late '80s, a painful bout of tendonitis forced Kottke to alter his hard-charging, finger-picking style to accommodate a more forgiving and less strenuous approach to his playing, but the effect on his overall sound was negligible as far as fans were concerned. Kottke has continued to push his personal creative boundaries with the release of last year's album, Clone, an acoustic guitar/bass collaboration with Phish's Mike Gordon that added a unique textural layer to Kottke's already fascinating sound. Other than the Clone collaboration, it's been five years since Kottke's last album, 1999's One Guitar No Voice, so there's a good chance he'll be hauling out a few new tunes on this circuit. But the fact is that it hardly matters. New songs or old classics, Kottke's playing is as timeless as music itself and whatever he chooses for his set list is merely additional proof of his guitar divinity. (Brian Baker)
We Ragazzi with Volcano I'm Still Excited and Cosmo Go
Tuesday · Southgate House
Chicago's We Ragazzi is a dynamic blend of diverse musical elements that come together in a unique convergence of sound and fury. The band's 1999 debut album, Suicide Sound System, was the talk of the town and beyond and We Ragazzi seemed to be a band with a future ... until they broke up in 2001. Luckily the split turned out to be little more than a yearlong hiatus, as the band regrouped the following year after a little personnel shake-up to produce their fabulous sophomore album, 2002's The Ache. Now relocated to New York, the refurbished trio (Colleen Burke on keyboards, Tony Rolando on guitars and synth, and new addition Timothy McConville on drums and synth) breaks from the relatively linear quality of the first album and expertly mixes Prog-like polyrhythms with spiky Punk-like shards of guitar for a sound that draws equally from Red-era King Crimson and the martial riffs of Gang of Four. Above it all, Rolando sings in a hyper-passionate squall that suggests an Indie gene splice between the soulful shout of Mick Jagger and the keening wail of Billy Corgan, depending on the mood and necessity of the song. McConville provides a shifting rhythm point for the band's fluid sonic excursions as they examine the modern emotional landscape of love and the lack thereof ("I Want You 2 Love Me So Much I Can't Stand Up," "I Was So Goddamned," "Forever Surrender 2 U"). We Ragazzi is closing in on two years since the release of The Ache, so the hope is obviously that they'll bring with them on this latest tour some of the new material they've talked about online. And given the amazing advancement from first album to second, We Ragazzi's continued evolution will be something special to witness. (BB)