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Gary Clark Jr.: next blues superstar?

Gary Clark Jr. wowed the crowd at HOB Sunday night. (Photo by Jimmy Grotting)

If you were in the Parish Room at the House of Blues last night, or if you’ve seen Gary Clark Jr. elsewhere, you probably get the same feeling I do:  That pretty big things are on the horizon for the 27-year old Texan.

In fact, almost every single review I’ve read of Clark’s studio and live work agrees with this pronouncement. Multiple people I talked to at Sunday’s show bought tickets because they had heard he had gotten a 4-star rating in Rolling Stone (rare for a new/non-mainstream act and even rarer for the mag to review an EP from a relative unknown), while others  had arrived on the glowing word-of-mouth recommendations of friends who’d seen his mindboggle-worthy live show.

Hailed by many as the next big talent to revive the blues and deliver it to the masses from a bigger platform, it was apparent within a few minutes of launching into a 12-minute opener, “When My Train Pulls In,” that we were watching something spectacular, before the world at-large has caught word of it.
Throughout the night, Clark showed a great deal of restraint, refusing to engage in the self-indulgent meandering and repetitive trills that so many talented ax men get lost in. Instead, he spent much of the set nurturing a cool and lustrous tone, riding along the sturdy rhythm section of bassist Johnny Bradley and Johnny Radelat on drums and making those guys put in an honest days’ work to keep up with his next move.
Clark looked a tad shy, poised and showed a trance-like focus throughout most of the set, only acknowledging the decent-sized Sunday crowd a couple of times during the 90-minute set and cracking a rare smile only a handful of times. Comparisons to Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan are unfair and miss the mark, as Clark doesn’t quite reach that level of guitar wizardry.
What impressed me most about Clark was not guitar aerobics and wide-ranging guitar workouts, however, but his ability to make things look completely effortless, maintaining a placid demeanor while putting out a turbo-charged tonal blues sound, brimming over with ferocity and passion. Many in the crowd just peered at the front of the narrow room with gaping jaws, seemingly trying to appreciate this chance to see the man up-close-and-personal, knowing full well that next time Clark comes through we may be watching him with binoculars or on the jumbotron screen at the Fairgrounds at Jazz Fest.
If there was one thing in the show that wasn’t quite there, it was the early slower tunes, stripped down to quiet guitar strumming and Clark’s R & B vocals, which would have benefited from a fuller musical accompaniment. But the second the band ripped back into the scuzzed-out “Bright Lights” riff, Clark appeared to be back in his comfort zone, centered in his Junior Kimbrough-laced wheel house of barroom blues.
After closing down the set, the remaining fans summoned the Clark Trio back onstage, and were handsomely rewarded with a cover of Curtis Mayfield’s 1970 soul classic “Move On Up,” with an interesting, rock-leaning mid-tempo rendition of the tune, very different from the more straight-laced rendition played by My Morning Jacket in recent years.
I try not to make this statement too often, but it is only a matter of time before your mom and dad know who Gary Clark Jr. is, and by the looks of some of the folks in the audience on Sunday, a few of them already do. I’m excited to see him again this weekend at ACL; don’t miss your next chance to see Clark at arms’ length.
Check out the full photo gallery from Jimmy Grotting and more videos from the show (including one from Little Freddie King’s opening set) below.
Wesley Hodges writes about music for NolaVie and is editor of Live Music Blog: NOLA.


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