In the great venue of the Relentless Garage in Highbury, London, I caught Gary Clark Jr.’s twenty nine year old shining star of blues/soul/rock as he made his way, as part of the European branch of his new worldwide tour (including the US, Japan, South America).
Gary Clark Jr. does not need bells and whistles to carry out a two-hour concert in front of a captivated and breathless young audience. His presence is simple, just a boy in t-shirt, cap and Epiphone guitar, he could be simply their friend, a brother or just the companion of many adventures, thrown on stage ; except that the young Gary Clark Jr., in addition to being acclaimed for years as the real promise of Texan Blues, has finally crossed the line of ‘”Indie” by consecrating the stage with the Rolling Stones in December, playing “I’m Going Down,” an old blues by Freddy King with Jagger, Richards & Co in New York).
From the first notes of “When My Train Pulls In” it is clear that the reputation Clark Jr. has won over the years is more than deserved. He instantly enchants the audience with his distinctive soulful voice and with the arm sound of his semi-acoustic, on which fingers seem to run as smooth as on the body of his woman.
The backing band, accompanying him on this, as well as his last tours, builds a solid basis on which Clark Jr can sweep solos and vocals that literally gives me chills; and providing him room to turn (hot slide guitar on “Do Not Owe You A Thing”, for example), while maintaining a dense rhythm, even on slow songs like “Please Come Home”, on which Clark sports a great falsetto proving to be as much at his ease with the guitar as with his voice.
The concert rushes, a mixture between modern sweat blues and classic rock (“Travis Country”, “Is Not Messin’ Around”, “Bright Lights”), interspersed with traditional covers (masterful “Three O’ Clock Blues ” by BB King and “Catfish Blues” ) played with his characteristic sound; dirty and distorted, warm and low. Gary Clark Jr. is like a magnet. He is able to draw all the eyes of the audience to him, as if an invisible thread could transmit electricity from his soul, straight into the hundreds hearts in front of him. Every note is not just composed by sound waves, but has its own life, like a newborn, born from the union of his fingers, his voice, his heart and his soul. Although I am not I a big lover of guitar virtuosity, I remain breathless in front of the ease with which Gary ventures into long solos on his guitar, once fast and almost on the edge of hard rock, then slow and full of life, as the tradition of bluesmen teach.
A true icon of style (in fact he has recently been chosen by John Varvatos – with Jimmy Page – as the face of his new spring campaign), Clark Jr. stands very confident on stage, and while the more the minutes keep on passing, the more the atmosphere becomes hot, even outside the rock/blues songs like “You Saved Me” or “Things Are Changing” that wink to the melodic pop-rock, proving once again his versatility and looking more and more aimed at a much wider audience.
After leaving the stage, as ritual, Gary Clark Jr. retraces his steps to give the audience a couple of encores. Playing, just guitar and vocals, an old blues by Leroy Carr, “When The Sun Goes Down”, a former workhorse in the past and divinely executed in front of President Obama – as if already playing with the Stones and Eric Clapton, at twenty-nine, was not enough. Even in songs that sink their roots exclusively in the tradition of cotton fields, acoustic guitars out of tune, starry nights and blues, Gary Clark Jr. juggles as if at that times, in addition to the various T-Bone Walker, Freddie King, Lightin’ Hopkins, he had lived there and grew up among them.
And in the end, he seals the concert with the warm, full-bodied sound of the instrumental “Numb.” I am left speechless, made to feel part of the music, of the stage, of the valves, through electricity, jacks, cables, through the sweat that pours from the musicians and their passionate craft.
At the end of the song, the ending vertex of the climax, your mind is aware that the concert has ended; but you find yourself there, still, wanting more and more, always more. I go out, I find myself in the cold
London night, far from Austin, TX, but ideally connected by an invisible highway of blues, soul, rock and vinyls. The ears still ringing; but it is that comfortable feeling that only a live musician can give you, at his best, played as God commands. Gary Clark Jr. is no longer the “next big thing.” Gary Clark Jr. is already a big thing and he knows it. Do not miss him for anything, whether you love the blues, rock, soul or pop and, after leaving the concert, your ears ringing will be for you, just like for me, a fantastic, unique, lovely pleasure.