Gary Clark Jr Takes Back the Blues

Gary Clark Jr is considered to be the savior/renaissance man of blues music.  He hails from Austin, Texas and has been playing guitar since age 12.  He earned recognition early on from playing gigs at Antone’s music club in Austin (the same place that launched the career of blues icon Stevie Ray Vaughn).  Clark has landed spots on countless music festivals and played sold out shows nation-wide.   With such an impressive resume it was hard to believe that he was going to be playing Mr. Smalls Theater, which also sold out (duh right?).That was the question each fan in line including myself had.  What grace of god (or whomever you fancy) allowed Gary Clark Jr to play a small intimate club show when he was literally playing the TD Garden in Boston two days earlier?  Whatever it was, we were all pumped and ready for a night of the blues. There was no national act supporting Gary Clark Jr, so Pittsburgh’s own Grand Piano (pictured below) opened.

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I had heard a few songs by these guys before, but never saw them.  To put it simple, Grand Piano blew the crowd away.  Their sound was like nothing I’d ever heard; they used a sax, trumpet, and steel guitar on top of the traditional guitar, drum, and bass.  I couldn’t get over how much the drummer and horns set the pace for each song.  Grand Piano was also very modest about their opening spot, thanking the crowd and club numerous times.  They were corky and joked with each other on stage in between songs but were completely business while playing, it was treat.  After Grand Piano left the stage everybody started to huddle towards the front.  It was time for Gary Clark Jr!

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He came out and just gave a smile and a hello before busting right into a cover of Robert Perry’s “Catfish Blues.” Gary Clark Jr continued to play homage to the pioneers of blues by covering BB Kings “3 O’clock Blues,” Albert Kings’ “Pretty Woman (Can’t Make You Love Me), and The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “Third Stone from the Sun.” Gary Clark Jr’s choice of covers told a lot about him, his music, and the way he plays.  He is commonly compared to the late Jimi Hendrix because of his ability to shred the guitar and jam for seemingly endless amounts of time (which is a good thing, we appreciate a good jam here at WTMO).  You could really tell that he and his backing band had great chemistry.  That being said, not a single track sounded like an original recording verbatim, each song was basically a jam. Gary Clark Jr is also compared to BB King in the sense that he “feels” his guitar when he plays.  While playing he would commonly make these faces that almost looked like he was in pain.  However, said made faces occurred while some of the most soothing music was being played.  Gary Clark Jr wasn’t just in tune with the audience he was pouring his heart and soul out on the stage. To hear the classics being played with neo blues twist was like a full circle experience for all those in attendance.  It was almost as if Mr. Clark was trying to serenade the crowd with this guitar. Before heading off the stage the first time, he highlighted the hits from his latest and critically acclaimed release Blak and Blu and played both the title track and “Bright Lights.”

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Now we all know about “the encore.”  The band exits on a high note and more importantly leaves the crowd wanting more.  Gary Clark Jr added a little zazz to this encore.  He came out alone and with an attached harmonica (pictured above) and proceeded to play his cover of Leroy Carr’s “In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down).  The band proceeded to rejoin him on stage as he wrapped up and closed the show out with “You Saved Me” and fan favorite “Numb.” This was certainly a special concert; Pittsburgh and a few other cities do not know how lucky they are to see Gary Clark Jr perform in a small intimate club.  Next time he comes around on tour I guarantee it will be at a venue with five maybe even ten times the crowd capacity, the demand will be too high for venue like Mr. Smalls.  So if you consider yourself a fan of blues and you already haven’t listened to Gary Clark Jr, DO IT!  You’ll thank yourself.  And more importantly stick around and check out our blog for other show reviews and previews, interviews, and much more!