RECAP: GARY CLARK JR. AT ANTONE’S
“Now we here at Antone’s know him as ‘Little Gary,’ but apparently he ain’t little no’ mo,’ and he’s goin’ by his full name, so come on out here Gary Clark Jr.!” With that humble summoning, the headliner nonchalantly took to the stage looking more like an ego-less, virgin performer and less like someone Rolling Stone would declare rock’s “Best Young Gun.” Such tamed and gentle swagger from a major label signee is a rarity—coupled with a live performance, it allows for approachability between the artist and the attendees and produces a collectivist atmosphere.
The performance teetered on the delicate brim of perfection all night, spearheaded by the heavy “When My Train Pulls In.” Throughout the textbook blues number, Clark played his guitar as effortlessly and stylishly as he wore his signature fedora, and he fed the audience ripe riff after ripe riff. He then brought his bright instrumentation into the shadows with his backing band, which was busy creating a wall of sound around him, and balanced his punchy, staccato solos with flowing, extended measures that gave the song a back-and-forth, push-and-pull momentum.
Following the extended coda of “When My Train Pulls In,” Clark mumbled his first few words— “Wassup, Austin?”—before returning to the music, confirming that this young man—like his forebears Hendrix, Hopkins, and Wolf—would let his guitar do most of the talking. A few newer songs followed, including the jaunty “Don’t Owe You A Thang,” in which Clark’s fingers agilely sprinted from one of end of the fretboard to the other, flicking strings and cobbling together distorted blues patterns along the way. By the end of the song, Clark had successfully traversed through the traditional realm of blues and into his own eclectic temple of sound.
Taking a break from full-band numbers, Clark had plenty of room to wander about the stage, but instead chose to draw the crowd into an intimate space, with only a mic stand serving as a performer- audience barrier. He temporarily put the tried-and-true blues songs on ice and, with a tip of the hat to Aaron Neville and Aretha Franklin, showed off his melismatic, melt-at-your-ears falsetto with the self-assured, soulful “Don’t Cry For Me.” The fight for Clark’s most notable talent came to a head on the song “Please Come Home,” in which he laid down layered, sentimental, acoustic notes and sang in a textured, honeyed voice that stretched like taffy through high and low notes.
This ballad-heavy portion of the set drove away part of the crowd, but Clark only flinched in order to toast those who remained, then brought his band back up to tear into the closing number, “Bright Lights, Big City.” It was a galvanizing ending, featuring a jam session in which every band member was given a moment in the spotlight. Meanwhile Clark, with an earnest expression and closed eyes, arched over his guitar and descended to his knees, looking like a man uttering his most desperate prayer. It was an appropriately reverent gesture from “Little Gary,” showing that he’s not only a genre- bending steward of the blues, but also the music’s most devoted godson.