By Andy J. Gordon
Rock ‘n’ roll guitar gods are a dying breed. Page, Beck, Clapton and the other classic rockers are all eligible for Social Security. There have been a few contenders since that era, but in this new millennium it seems that all the glory goes to the “artists” that manipulate tracks on a laptop, rather than to those who can actually make magic happen with a guitar. Just when all hope seems to be lost, along comes a truly “chosen one” out of Austin, Texas.
Gary Clark Jr. has brought back everything that made the classic guitar heroes so special – incredible chops with his instrument, great stage presence and that undefinable something special that old-time bluesmen would attribute to a deal at the crossroads with the devil. Clark has the qualities that classic blues slingers like BB King, Albert King, Buddy Guy and a few others possessed and then he throws in modern rock, soul, R&B, punk and reggae influences. He is today’s modern gunslinger fighting against the tide of bland pop, studio-manufactured music.
Clark is on a whirlwind tour of the United States and came to Los Angeles for a four-show residency beginning on November 12, 2018, at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood. His solid touring band includes King Zapata on second guitar, Johnny Radelat on drums, Johnny Bradley on bass and newcomer Jon Deas on keyboards. The first show proved that Clark is at the peak of his powers and the crowd at the sold-out venue went wild with every explosive guitar solo.
The show opened and concluded with some of his most popular material. Clark and his band came out with a scorching “Ain’t Messin’ Round” and followed it up with “Nextdoor Neighbor Blues.” “When My Train Pulls In” wrapped up the trio of songs from his fantastic Black and Blu album from 2012. After that trio of familiar tunes, Clark introduced and played several new songs to round out the set. The new material will appear on an album due for release in early 2019.
“Walk Alone” is a throwback R&B number featuring Clark’s incredible falsetto. “Got to Get Up” opens with Jon Deas’ hypnotic keyboard beat and leads into Clark’s scratchy guitar riff. All five band members harmonize beautifully on the chorus. “Feelin’ Like a Million” has a distinctive reggae rhythm and scorching guitar solos from Clark. “Gotta Get Into Something” is a loud, aggressive punk song reminiscent of The Ramones. King Zapata got the spotlight for a rousing guitar solo during the song.
The set closed with Clark under the spotlight playing a nearly acoustic, solo version of “Black and Blu.” The hypnotic song started slowly, but gradually morphed into a fuzzy and explosive full band version of “Bright Lights” from the 2011 EP that launched the artist to stardom. The audience went crazy as the band played. Zapata performed a solo then gave way to Clark, who added yet another imaginative solo to end the show. Clark and the band waved goodbye, but no one left the theater.
After a few minutes of the audience chanting “Gary! Gary!” Clark and Deas came back out. They did a beautiful version of “Things Are Changin'” from Black and Blu. Once that song ended, the guitar wizard began a slow burning “Don’t Owe You a Thing” from the 2011 Bright Lights EP as the other band members gradually joined in, building up the tempo. Zapata played a slide-guitar riff while Clark demonstrated his expert fingerpicking technique. The show ended with the band’s latest hit, a remake of the Beatles’ “Come Together” that was featured in 2017s blockbuster movie “Justice League.”
It seems appropriate that Gary Clark Jr. is associated with a superhero movie. He has the guitar chops, vocal talent and dynamic stage persona to be the much-needed guitar hero for the second decade of the new millennium and beyond. He and the band conclude their 2018 tour with three shows in Austin, Texas on December 3 to 5, 2018. The band just announced a new Spring 2019 Tour in support of the new album that kicks off March 9, 2019, in Miami. Go see him live and you will be blown away by his superpowers!