Live Review: Gary Clark Jr. at House of Blues San Diego, March 11, 2016

Gary Clark Jr
Photo credit: K. Alize Tran

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 “Bright Lights” — it set the tone for the evening. He’s a man of few words who doesn’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: “You’re gonna know my name by the end of the night,” 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, 2012’s Blak & Blu, including “Ain’t Messin ‘Round,” 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 “Hold On,” old-school R&B romancer “Our Love,” and the encore-saving soulful groove “Down to Ride.” The guitarist also worked in a blues cover of Albert Collins’ “If Trouble Were Money” (which appears on 2014’s stellar Gary Clark Jr. Live album) and several ballads that allowed him to reveal a falsetto akin to Curtis Mayfield, as on “You Saved Me,” 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 “Gare-REE!” 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 he’s somewhat of a hero in his hometown of Austin, Texas, Clark rolled out a sonically extraordinary 105-minute performance. “We gotta do this again sometime,” he said as he wrapped up his regular set with “Shake,” perhaps alluding to his upcoming gig at Humphreys in August. He returned for another 20 minutes of encores, beginning with “Church,” 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 “Numb.” 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 it’s as if they are simply a portal for the music. That’s Gary Clark Jr.

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