When guitar virtuoso Gary Clark Jr. sauntered on stage at House of Blues to minimal pomp and circumstance — simply strapping on his axe and launching into â€œBright Lightsâ€ — it set the tone for the evening. Heâ€™s a man of few words who doesnâ€™t offer much when it comes to stories behind the tunes or between-song banter. He just comes to play and lets the music speak for him, sonically and lyrically: â€œYouâ€™re gonna know my name by the end of the night,â€ he sang during the opening number.
Despite touring on behalf of his latest release, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, Clark started off the night with three songs from his major-label debut, 2012â€™s Blak & Blu, including â€œAinâ€™t Messin â€˜Round,â€ for which he received a Grammy nomination in the Best Rock Song category. Make no mistake: Clark might be most recognized as a contemporary blues artist, but his repertoire is also infused with rock, jazz, gospel and R&B/soul. He is truly a musical jack of all trades.
Looking dapper as always in his trademark hat, Clark did, in fact, play several selections from Slim. These included the funk jam â€œHold On,â€ old-school R&B romancer â€œOur Love,â€ and the encore-saving soulful groove â€œDown to Ride.â€ The guitarist also worked in a blues cover of Albert Collinsâ€™ â€œIf Trouble Were Moneyâ€ (which appears on 2014â€™s stellar Gary Clark Jr. Live album) and several ballads that allowed him to reveal a falsetto akin to Curtis Mayfield, as on â€œYou Saved Me,â€ which unfortunately fell victim to the din of the maxed-out venue.
A master of subtlety, Clark occasionally shared a smirk in response to applause or screams of â€œGare-REE!â€ from the crowd. And at times, after laying out the final strains of a song to thunderous adulation, he would slowly spin around and seemingly look upward, as if to thank a higher power for his blessings.
Proving why heâ€™s somewhat of a hero in his hometown of Austin, Texas, Clark rolled out a sonically extraordinary 105-minute performance. â€œWe gotta do this again sometime,â€ he said as he wrapped up his regular set with â€œShake,â€ perhaps alluding to his upcoming gig at Humphreys in August. He returned for another 20 minutes of encores, beginning with â€œChurch,â€ which had Clark on harmonica as well as guitar and inexplicably caused someone to toss a small, white (under?)garment on stage to chuckles.
The apex of the show came earlier, however, when Clark unleashed an electrifying, nearly three-minute guitar solo during â€œNumb.â€ Marked by the distinctive, distorted wail that draws comparisons of Clark to Jimi Hendrix, the jaw-dropping moment put the whole night into perspective: Some people can learn to become proficient musicians. Others appear to be born with an innate talent. And then there are the select few who play so effortlessly that itâ€™s as if they are simply a portal for the music. Thatâ€™s Gary Clark Jr.