Gary Clark Jr. is a man out of time, resplendent in battered denim and wide brimmed hat he is the embodiment of the classic blues man. Immediately launching into 2012 single ‘Bright Lights’ and demonstrating deep, smoking guitar chops that conclusively speak to his credentials, Clark is nothing if not authentic.
But it would be a mistake to think of him as a throwback, merely revelling in homage as he is also an artist with something to say. Whereas previous albums have avoided making specific political statements, latest album ‘This Land’ addresses the current climate, all the more striking juxtaposed against Clark’s usual laid back cool.
An early highlight in the evening’s proceedings is Marvin Gaye inspired ‘Feed The Babies’ – falsetto soul against a funky, yet pleading guitar riff that makes for a spiritual cousin to ‘Inner City Blues’. Played live, keyboardist Jon Deas does an admirable job replacing the record’s horn lines with gospel organ.
Defying expectations, reggae styled ‘Feelin’ Like A Million’ turns into a ska jam that allows drummer, Johnny Radelat to hang loose. It is always a healthy sign when an artist believes enough in their new record to dedicate large chunks of the set over to it and playing songs like ‘When I’m Gone’, where he gets to channel a romantic soul man (doubtless causing the healthy turnout of female fans collective hearts to flutter) it is obvious that Gary Clark is proud of ‘This Land’.
However there was a palpable wave of excitement when Clark turned to the previous studio album for revivalist ‘Church’ – donning his harmonica (while still playing guitar) and silencing the punters with his plaintive cry of “Lord, my Lord I need your helpin’ hand”. The musicianship on display was mesmerising and Clark can add Junior Wells style harmonica playing to his list of many talents. Against the stained glass trappings of Manchester’s Albert Hall, the audience undoubtedly felt the spirit move them.
At the start of the gig Clark felt slightly aloof but fortunately as the night progressed he became more friendly; by the time crowd-pleaser ‘Cold Blooded’ kicked in, it was obvious he was having fun grooving with the band and stretching numbers out into long jams. New single ‘Pear Cadillac’ is part of a rich history of songs that liken relationships to vehicles and the way the band teased the opening of the song in an extended intro suggests Gary Clark Jr. may have just found his own ‘Little Red Corvette’.
At two hours thirty, the audience was spoilt and far from dipping the energy only increased. For a final encore Gary Clark offered a happy birthday to Paul McCartney before smoking his ‘Come Together’ cover from the Justice League soundtrack, the most successful thing to come out of that movie. Darker and heavier than The Beatles original, the congregation had scrunched-up-faces and nodded approvingly to the famous riff. Inheriting a musical history but still pushing the form forward, Gary Clark Jr. shows that the blues are still very much alive.
Review by Phillip Beamon
Photos by Marie-Fleur Ewing
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