Saturday, November 10, 2012

Legend in the Making: Gary Clark, Jr. at 9:30 Club

The Cody Chesnutt show was sold-out, so here's another review cobbled together from my brother's texts.

On Friday night, Gary Clark, Jr. headlined a sold-out show at Washington, D.C.'s 9:30 Club, which many people, including myself, consider one of the best clubs in the nation.  Kat Edmonson opened, but had to compete with a loud, chatty crowd that was there to see Clark.  Gary Clark, Jr., the 28-year-old guitarist, is "so hot right now" to say the least.  He burst into the public's ears last year with The Bright Lights EP, a 4-track hors d'oeuvre to the 3-week-old Blak & Blu, his major label debut.  A fixture on this summer's festival scene, Clark has amassed a legion of fans, many of whom were quick to dismiss a handful of the album's more eclectic songs as filler imposed by the label when Blak & Blu dropped in October.  What they may not realize is that GCJ released 3 albums and an EP before Bright Lights, and several of the songs on his new album appeared on them, including the hip-hop-flavored "The Life."  The only one of these records still available is the eponymous EP, which you can download from Amazon.  These documents of GCJ's past have been swept under the rug by Warner Brothers to reinvent him as the savior of the blues, hyping him up as a new artist so as to capitalize on his talent.  Only five songs on Blak & Blu hadn't been previously released before the album debuted at #6 on the Billboard chart.  His entire fall tour sold out in advance, including three shows at the Bowery Ballroom and the Troubadour.  But does he live up to the hype?

Just before 10:30, GCJ and band hit the ground running with "When My Train Pulls In," accentuated by a screeching solo that extended the song to 11 minutes.  After "Don't Owe You a Thang," Clark went with "Oh, Pretty Woman," the funky Albert King track; not the Roy Orbison hit.  My brother's favorite performance of the night came next on "Please Come Home," where Gary let his vocals, usually reminiscent of fellow blues revivalist Dan Auerbach, take a trip into Smokey Robinson falsetto territory.  Following that was "Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say," the Hendrix-Collins hybrid that was immortalized on this year's Record Store Day release HWUL Raw Cuts Vol. 1, and tailed by a hornless "Ain't Messin' 'Round."  Clark paid tribute again to blues-great Albert Collins with "If Trouble Was Money."  If you don't recognize Collins by name, you may remember him from Adventures in Babysitting, where he delivered the classic line, "Nobody leaves this place without singing the blues."

A slower version of "Blak & Blu" featuring only Gary and drummer Johnny Radelat segued into closer "Bright Lights."  Gary returned to the stage alone to play a very old blues song, "When the Sun Goes Down," which was released in 1935 by Leroy Carr and later popularized by Ray Charles.  He closed with the album's single, "Numb," whose hard rock riffing inspired two crowdmembers to brawl before being escorted out by security.  When the concert ended more than 20 minutes after midnight, my brother texted, "Don't miss this guy the next time he's in NYC.  Legend in the making."

Which made me think: What constitutes a legend?  In this era of shuffling playlists, mp3s, and laptop studios, can there be legends?  When so much music is inundating the marketplace, a marketplace in which many people see no problem in shoplifting, is there room for legends?  When I think of legendary musicians, the first people that pop into my mind are Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, and Elvis Presley.  In "Bright Lights," Clark contends, "You're gonna know my name by the end of the night," which is hopefully true for anyone attending a show of his that sold out in an hour, but will he ever be as iconic as Elvis?  More fittingly, perhaps, is that he may become a blues legend.  Albert Collins has influenced many blues artists and would likely be considered a legend in his genre, but I had to google him to see what he looked like, and then attached him to "Babysitting Blues."  Surely we can all picture B.B. King's face in our heads, but can we readily imagine Albert King's?  I suppose only time will tell for Clark, but one thing's certain: Right now, on stage, he lives up to the hype.

I don't usually make it a point to invite people to comment, but this topic intrigues me.  What makes a legendary musician?  Who would you consider the most recent musical legend?  Do you think Gary Clark, Jr. is next?  Leave your comments below.

GARY CLARK, JR. - 11.09.12 - 9:30 CLUB (1 hour, 52 minutes)

When My Train Pulls In / Don't Owe You a Thang / Oh, Pretty Woman / Please Come Home / Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say / Ain't Messin' 'Round / Things Are Changin' / If Trouble Was Money / Catfish Blues / Travis County / Blak & Blu > Bright Lights

When the Sun Goes Down / Numb


  1. I believe the unknown song was Catfish Blues

  2. I was at the show and am in my fifties. I have seen Zeppelin with Page, Albert Collins, Clapton, SRV, Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker - all many times, live in concert. This guy is surely a blues technician and he knows his blues history. This is a good thing for the new generation, no doubt. But to label him a potential legend because he's got an Austin city pedigree and plays great blues is getting a little ahead of yourselves, people. I am rooting for him to succeed in a big way, don't get me wrong. But he has got a long way to go to be even mentioned in the same breath as the aforementioned legends.
    In my humble opinion he needs to do a few things. First and foremost he need to turn up his emotion and feel his music more. He comes accross too detached from the music he's playing. His voice and stage presence needs work. His song selection needs to be upgraded and he clearly has to jam more with a rocking beat, not just showcase how great and fast he can play the notes. He should command the crowd, not just play at them. He should go see a Buddy Guy show some time. I wish him luck and hope he rekindles the blues to a new generation. It is truly an great American art form that has been long neglected by younger generations in favor of a hip hop beat. Hopefully some Blacks can see past the self perceived "old" lable the blues have with them and go see some shows and buy some music. They'll be really surprised at what they've been missing.

  3. This is Dustin's brother, source of the info from GC Jr's 9:30 Club show. More specifically, the one who said he's a "legend in the making." Please read that again - legend in THE MAKING. I wasn't putting him on the same level or mentioning him in the same breath as Collins, Clapton, SRV, Guy or Hooker. I was simply saying this guy, at 28 years old, currently seems like the best hope for keeping the blues alive by way of drawing a younger generation into the genre. Anonymous, you obviously saw something in his music to make you want to go see him live. Others more knowledgeable than you or I saw fit to include him in a performance at the White House earlier this year (aired on PBS) celebrating the blues where he performed in front of the President alongside BB King, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck and....wait for it...Buddy Guy! So not only has Clark seen Buddy Guy, he's jammed with him! I also know that he performed with Guy at Clapton's Crossroads festival a few years ago.

    I respectfully disagree with your comments on stage presence - did you not notice him stalking the the entire apron of the stage whenever he wasn't singing? And as far as his vocals, "Please Come Home" was brilliant - sounded even better than on the album and not many artists I've seen can pull off such a crisp falsetto sound in a live setting.

    Sooooo, legend in the making? Yup, I stand by my statement. This guy is young and if he continues on the path for another 30, 40, 50 years, a blues legend he will be.

  4. When I heard the word "legend," Bob Marley immediately popped into my mind, as he will forever be associated with his bestselling greatest hits collection. Then Hendrix materialized. Then Elvis. After posting the article, my brother told me that these three were in a class of their own: icons. I asked my brother to differentiate because it initially seemed like a matter of semantics, as I'd used both words in my article. His response was as follows:

    "I see an icon as one who defines their particular genre; maybe two people that define a genre. Legends are still a fairly select group, but broader than an icon."

    So using that definition, while Bob Marley is the icon of reggae, Jimmy Cliff is a reggae legend, due to both his ever-expanding musical legacy and his starring role in reggae's seminal film, The Harder They Come.

    When it comes to legendary or iconic status, it seems that standing the test of time is one of the main qualifiers. Which is why I suggested readers to comment on who they'd consider the most recent legend. For me, I'd probably say Radiohead, and they've been a band since 1985 (though only called Radiohead since '91, which is still over 20 years!). Should you agree with me that Radiohead are legendary, let's not forget that their major label debut Pablo Honey was not groundbreaking. But over the years, they developed their craft and released two albums considered masterpieces, OK Computer and Kid A. I like Amnesiac better than both, but it's not about personal taste. For instance, in the same day this year, I had the pleasure of witnessing performances by both Neil Young and Willie Nelson. Using my brother's classification, I'd call Neil Young a legend and Willie an icon, even though I personally prefer Young's music more.

    If you're to delineate between a legend and an icon, I'd say that icons transcend personal taste. Whether you like that artist or not, listen to that genre or not, you know them. I don't listen to Johnny Cash, but I understand that he is an icon. I know what he looks like. When I hear his voice, I know it's Johnny Cash. Not as many people have heard of Townes Van Zandt, though you'd be hard-pressed to find a country musician or classic country fan that wouldn't consider him a legend. This does get muckier in the MTV and information ages where we have been flooded with images of artists. Most everyone can recognize Lady Gaga, but that doesn't mean she is a legend. Artistic credibility obviously factors in.

    To skip over the debate on wording between legend and icon, a better question might be do you think Gary Clark, Jr. will ever be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame? Icons and legends are both included under this banner.

    I think the main point my brother (and Anonymous) are expressing is that it's a gift to have a talent such as Clark around in this era of dubstep and Miami hip-hop. Clark and his neo-blues compatriots like the Black Keys and Alabama Shakes are ushering in an appreciation for blues music for a younger generation. And when Clark covered Albert Collins and Albert King, he announced it. He’s proud of his legends and he wants to share them with us.

    While we may not want to compare any of today's new musicians to the greats of the past, music will never grow if we only hold onto those esteemed icons and legends. Because the fact of the matter is, Gary Clark, Jr. has enchanted a lot of people with his live shows. And the three icons I listed are deceased. My brother was born in '77, so he never got to see Hendrix. If he has a great time at a Gary Clark, Jr. show because he sees and hears a future force to be reckoned with, I'd say that's a positive thing.

  5. Coincidently, the Unknown Song you ask about is Catfish Blues, which I happened to request. Thankfully, Gary was happy to oblige me!!!

  6. After finding another GCJ version of "Catfish Blues" on YouTube, I've confirmed that yes, this is the song. Too bad the portion captured wasn't the beginning with all the fishy lyrics. Though "Anonymous" was the frist to guess correctly, they left no info. MigalMann, are you interested in the GCJ press kit .pdf and/or the Of Montreal download?

  7. I was right next to those guys that started brawling, too! Had to get between them and my girl. That encore finale was killer - great show!