They might worship a messianic-maned singer and loft their lighters to treacly power ballads, but Nickelback fans can be a rough lot. Clutch discovered this in Knoxville, Tenn., where it opened for the seemingly harmless Canadian croon-metal group.

"I've never seen so much hatred concentrated on four men," singer Neil Fallon says. "It became a sport for them to throw shit at us. We toured with Slayer, and that was a breeze, but you open up for Nickelback and the fans want your head on a pole."

Such epiphanies still occur regularly for Clutch. Bands that never stop traveling and never say no to potentially convertible crowds tell the best stories.

"A band has to go out of its comfort zone and play for audiences that might be hostile," Fallon says. "We got a lot of shit from 15-year-old kids in baggy jeans on the Limp Bizkit tour, but there were a couple hundred people in the background who came out to see us at our next headlining gig."

Though it shares stages with metal, punk and hardcore outfits, Clutch identifies strongly with the simple "rock" designation. The group named its 2001 album Pure Rock Fury, and its official Internet home is www.pro-rock.com.

"Rock, in its best form, is closely related to the blues," Fallon says. "We take the blues scale, amp it up and run with it."

On this year's Robot Hive/Exodus, its seventh studio album, Clutch covers Howlin' Wolf and Mississippi Fred McDowell. When selecting its own warm-up acts, Clutch leans toward bluesmen like William Elliott Whitmore and Scott H. Biram. Even when those singers start yodeling or picking their way through ragtime tunes, Clutch's crowds remain appreciative.

"The people who like us like us because we're anomalous," Fallon says. "We never talk about what we are or what we want to do. It's instinctual. Isolation is good to a degree because you're forced to make up your own style. If you're trying to keep up with the Joneses, you end up being lowest-common-denominator drivel."

In some ways, 2005 presents more possibilities than any other period in the group's 13-year career. Road-savvy acts have become the music business' most profitable, and the road is something Clutch definitely knows about.

"Success today is better gauged by how many people come to see you play rather than how many records you sell," Fallon says.

The records Clutch does sell go a long way, due to its equitable deal with indie label DRT. After abysmal stints on Elektra, Columbia and Atlantic, Clutch is recording on its own terms.

"We used their promotions and marketing, and then years later, we can put out our own records," Fallon says. "We make more money selling 10,000 of ours than 100,000 of theirs."

With every year of 200-plus shows, Clutch adds new rules by which to live. Its fans, pointing at Fallon's artfully obtuse lyrics, tout Clutch's smarts, but hard-learned lessons are just as vital to the group's survival as inherent intelligence.

"If there's any kind of intellect in the band, it's from experience," Fallon says.

7 pm Tuesday, Nov. 1
Hard Rock Live

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