Cover Band Coming in Clutch(Dog) at Calloways

Jul 11, 2018
Photo by: Jack Reynolds

Red police lights flashed over a speaker system, a drum set, electric guitars and microphones. Beyond the equipment on the wall hung a red banner depicting a white, menacing bulldog in a black top hat. A multi-colored disco LED display rotated across the wall while smoke rose from the ground by way of some hidden fog machine in theatrical anticipation of what was to come. Then the simple, unmistakable introductory chord progression of “The Middle” by Jimmy Eat World brought Calloways in Staffordville to life, as ClutchDog set their Saturday night stage.

With layered, wavy shoulder-length hair, sporting a white denim cutoff vest, Joe Cannon, singer and guitarist for ClutchDog, bears an uncanny resemblance to fellow Jersey rocker Bon Jovi.

Though the band has been together for only six years, Cannon had the band’s name “ClutchDog” in mind for almost 30. “It’s an actual part in a gear case of an engine, like an outboard engine. I’ve been doing outboards since the ’80s, and when I was told that it was a clutch dog, I thought ‘what a cool name.’”

So, when the opportunity finally arose to use the name, Cannon jumped on it. “I just always thought it was such a cool word. It’s just something that switches from a forward to reverse gear. It’s the intermediate thing going ‘click.’”

“Just like how we click and get into gear,” joked Nicky Otten, bass guitarist of the New Jersey-based band.

Otten, Cannon and drummer Jerry Belardino have known one another since they were teenagers. Cannon wanted two singers for their musical venture, which is where guitarist, vocalist and Massachusetts-bred Mike Mallett came in. Cannon and Mallett take turns on lead vocals, swapping song for song in no particular order.

Together, they’re a happy, charisma-filled bunch. Soft-spoken and smiling, they sat around a table in the rear dining room of Calloways before the show, talking with and over one another in an odd, humorous harmony. So harmonious, in fact, that if you isolated their voices and listened to them one by one, you’d probably find they were saying a variation of the same thing. A hint to their performative chemistry.

At first blush, ClutchDog appears to have all the makings of a classic rock-leaning band, what with their overall aesthetic and admiration for The Beatles. But the Tom Petty enthusiasts have quite a supply of versatility up their sleeves.

“We don’t just do one kind of thing. We do some reggae, we do some rock, some country,” said Otten. “We do everything from The Black Keys to The Black Eyed Peas.”

ClutchDog arrives with a set list in hand, but one without restrictions. During a performance, they like to size up the crowd and alter their plans to match audience preferences and engagement. They are even generously receptive to requests.

“The first set list is like an NFL team: You script the first 10 plays and then after that, you see what’s going on and take it from there,” said Cannon.

Within the first few songs, the band had already accepted a plea for Johnny Cash, switching from rock to classic country for an impressive rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues.” Their preceding genre leaps were fluid and subtle, accentuated only by their blithe commentary between tunes.

Mallett has a vivacious, unique voice. Wearing a black Affliction “Live Fast” T-shirt and ripped jeans, he delivered “Summer of ’69” with gritty vocals, not unlike the legendary Bryan Adams. Entertaining was the band’s take on Weezer’s “Beverly Hills.” “Rip it, Jerry!” Cannon shouted to Belardino, who then proceeded to rip it, schooling the percussion intro before Cannon channeled his inner Rivers Cuomo to belt those angst-y, alt-rock lyrics. A sing-along favorite was their interpretation of “Chicken Fried,” for which Cannon donned a black cowboy hat.

Neon lights, high ceilings and dark decor give the bar a cozy cabin vibe, a strange luxury near the Jersey Shore. Bands performing at Calloways play right on the floor, level with the patrons for an immersive musical experience. It’s an intimate environment, as if the musicians are playing not in a crowded bar, but in a living room filled with friends and relatives.

As a band of grown men with families and full-time jobs, ClutchDog enjoys the ability to pick and choose its gigs. “We play about as much as we want to, from Toms River to Tuckerton,” said Otten, which is about two or three times a month for the group.

When asked if it was exhausting lugging equipment from venue to venue, from day job to side job, sharing and baring their souls to crowds of strangers, the bandmates said yes, it could be exhausting.

“We get here sometimes not feeling like it,” said Mallett. “Then you get set up and start playing and you get into it.”

“At the end of the night, I’m glad we did it,” said Otten. “Keeps us off the streets.”

“It's good exercise, too,” Mallett said, laughing.

“Yeah. I sweat off like 10 pounds last week,” said Cannon.

ClutchDog will play Tuckerton Beach Bar and Grille July 14 and at The Gateway July 20. For more information, visit Facebook at ClutchDog-305542972835673/.

— Sarah Hodgson



Set List Snippet:

“The Middle,” Jimmy Eat World

“Summer of ’69,” Bryan Adams

“Beverly Hills,” Weezer

“I Need to Know,” Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

“Chicken Fried,” Zac Brown Band

“Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy),” Big & Rich

“Listen to her Heart,” Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers

“Folsom Prison Blues,” Johnny Cash

“All You Need Is Love,” The Beatles

“Vertigo,” U2

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