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Gary Clark Jr. stuns at the Troubadour
Gary Clark Jr. isn't afraid to set himself among the greats. The 28-year-old Austin guitarist/singer/songwriter opened his sensational set at the Troubadour Tuesday night – the first of three sold-out shows this week at the landmark club – with a blast of spacey, Hendrixian feedback that led into "When My Train Pulls In." The tune came studded with solos that made short work of the history of Texas blues, referencing Freddie King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, T-Bone Walker, Lightnin' Hopkins and Johnny "Guitar" Watson, among others.
He then proceeded for the rest of his nearly 90-minute set (followed by a 20-minute encore) to prove that he is everything as advertised: a commanding guitarist, a charismatic performer and a wily songwriter.
His Warner Bros. debut, Blak and Blu, is a fine, smartly produced affair, a modernized blues platter that adds contemporary production touches and a broader songwriting palette, presenting a vision closer to the funky model set forth by Watson more than Stevie Ray or brother Jimmie Vaughan's purism. But Clark's live show is a different animal: a straightforward showcase for his guitar and vocals.
Tuesday's set mixed covers – like "Catfish Blues," a Robert Petway piece that sounds like Clark learned it from Hendrix' Blues collection, and a yearning take on Albert Collins' "If Trouble Was Money" – with originals, including the hot-rodding "Travis County," the Prince-ly ballad "Please Come Home" (which provided a chance to show of his pure falsetto) and, best of all, "Numb." Built around a riff reminiscent of "Come Together," it's an epically heavy rocker, a classic set-closer, featuring some of Clark's most passionate fretwork.
But then, every song featured at least one jaw-dropping solo. He is a superlative player; unlike so many other wannabe guitar heroes, you never get the feeling that he might run out of ideas. There's the rich, knotty textures he achieved on "Please Come Home," the chunky heft shown on "If Trouble," the abstract wild stretch of "Catfish Blues." Even more impressive is how fresh it all sounded, performed with a looseness (aided by his band, who opt for a grounded touch over showing off) that felt altogether modern
There was also a modesty to his performance. Clark eschews the flash of earlier players; there are no pyrotechnics, no playing behind his back or with his teeth. He doesn't need to bother with that. As he notes in his deft reworking of Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City": "You'll know my name by the end of the night." A performance this impressive speaks for itself.
Set list: Gary Clark Jr. at the Troubadour, West Hollywood, Nov. 13, 2012Main set: When My Train Pulls In / Don't Owe You a Thang / Please Come Home / Oh Pretty Woman (Gary Moore cover) / Travis County / Catfish Blues (Robert Petway cover) / If Trouble Was Money (Albert Collins cover) / Things Are Changin' / Third Stone from the Sun (Hendrix cover) > If You Love Me Like You Say > Third Stone from the Sun (Reprise) / NumbEncore: When the Sun Goes Down / Ain't Messin 'Round / Blak and Blu / Bright Lights