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Live Report: Clamfight (with Kings Destroy and Green Meteor) @ The Century Bar, Philadelphia

The Century Bar is in the kind of West Philadelphia neighborhood that Will Smith escaped from to go to Bel Air. If he ever stopped by back in the day, he wouldn’t recognize the place now. What was likely a typical urban watering hole serving the locals within a three-block radius has morphed into a metal venue for local (and even a handful of touring) acts.

A beat-up piano sits forlornly against one wall. It has a handwritten sign on it that reads “Just Don’t.” There is no stage — the bands set up in the corner underneath Hot Topic Zeppelin and Stones posters, but you can get a shot of whiskey and a PBR to chase it for only $4. That makes it the best place in the city for metalheads, punks, and other thrifty reprobates to kill a Friday night.

Those into judging bands by their appearance would be very confused with Green Meteor. The guitar-playing frontwoman looks a little metal, a little punkabilly, a lot like someone not to trifle with; the other guitarist seems like a hippie. The bassist, meanwhile, looks like a dude who works in an auto shop and smokes joints between oil changes, while the drummer appears to be an affable bald accountant.

The noise that such a menagerie might create could be anything, but what you actually get is a time-capsule that perfectly freezes the exact moment that Lemmy got kicked out of Hawkwind. The bass is swirling menacingly, and the room is throbbing with a buzzing drone making the psychedelia obvious even without the organ bleats that seem implied anyway. Colliding with the rhythmic acid trip are riffs a motorcycle gang might have belched into existence, creating the perfect soundtrack for one of those gritty 1970s biker exploitation flicks.

Kings Destroy offers more straightforward meat-and-potatoes fare compared to the two bands that sandwiched them. It’s not all lumbering, but even when the New Yorkers pop the clutch and take it into third, the ride remains a big ol’ muscle car with feathered roach clips hanging from the cracked rear-view mirror. In their capable hands, such authenticity is strength rather than weakness.

Even the spirited rundown of the Kiss classic “Parasite” did not betray the band’s stoner-rock roots. The familiar riff was muted, not particularly glammy, with the bass appropriately fuzzy. The lyrics were handwritten with a sharpie and taped to the monitor, which was funny. Next time, they should tackle “Rock And Roll All Night.” Far fewer words to remember.

Anyone still lamenting the loss of Man’s Ruin Records could do a lot worse than Kings Destroy.

Clamfight was celebrating the release of their third album aptly titled III — what creativity the band didn’t use to come up with that title was spent on the songs within. The South Jersey group takes inspiration from Mastodon’s nascent stabs at prog efficacy and Clutch at their most accessible; if you ever wondered what a “sludge jam band” might sound like, this is it.

How they resist the urge to get overly complicated is what makes it work. The riffs are more important than the solos (though there are solos everywhere), and they use both to string together songs that seem ceaseless — four of the five tracks on the album average ten minutes each. The band ran through the entire album (which is pretty standard for record release concerts), though ironically the only track they truncated was the shortest song on the record, the instrumental “Eynhallow.”

Drummer Andy Martin also serves as the vocalist. The oxymoronic unorthodoxy of having a singer in the back is overcome by the showmanship of the rest of the band. Guitarist Sean McKee flailed and thrashed around, coming exceedingly close to stomping on his massive effects pedal board or tripping over the drum kit… but always sticking the landing. Clamfight doesn’t need a stage; wherever they play is the stage.

Some songs will not make the usual setlist, but I’ll be damned to guess which ones (spoiler alert: the crushing lead track “Whale Road” is almost definitely staying). Such is the overall strength of the material and the confidence the band had in performing it. Cutting it down to include material from the previous two releases is an unenviable task, but that’s a pretty good problem to have.

— Brian O’Neill

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