By Malvina Rincon
Starting off his set with ‘When My Train Pulls In” from his new album Blak and Blu, Gary Clark Jr. almost makes it seem too easy. Wielding his guitar at an immediately awestruck crowd, he is in his element. In front of a select audience at Apogee’s Berkeley Street Studio for KCRW’s “Berkeley Street Sessions”, he looks at home with his guitar in hand. Ripping through “Ain’t Messin’ Round”, the first track from his new album, Clark is a man in control, not only of his guitar, but of the audience. He has a confidence on stage that comes only with a man sure of his talents.
You know that scene in Back to the Future when Marty McFly is playing “Johnny B. Goode” and Marvin Berry calls his cousin Chuck and tells him that this is the new sound he’s been looking for and holds up the phone receiver? Well, Gary Clark Jr. is Marty McFly and “Travis County” is that sound. It’s familiar, but new at the same time. Either way, it gets the crowd dancing and leaves it wondering “Who is this guy?”
The performance was paired with an interview led by KCRW host Anne Litt. At this time, the audience had an opportunity to hear some of Clark’s background. Once “off stage”, he seemed shy. If the audience had not witnessed what occurred seconds before, they would find it hard to believe that this was the same man that had just wooed them with a guitar.
During the interview he shared that although his love of the guitar started early, he started singing before he picked up an instrument. It is no wonder then why his vocal abilities are equally as impressive as his guitar skills. His performance of “You Saved Me” and “Things Are Changin’” are perhaps the best examples of Clark’s vocal range, which can go from bluesy to R&B and soul, with seemingly little effort.
One of the last songs he performed, “If You Love Me Like You Say/3rd Stone from the Sun”, perhaps best showcased his talents. If you heard the studio recording of this song and thought that was a record being scratched on a turntable, I have news for you. Clark managed to blow minds as he manipulated that guitar into whatever he willed it to be. The things I saw this man do with his guitar, I am sure I will never see again.
Ending his set with the Albert Collins cover of “If Trouble was Money”, the song sounds as if Clark could have written it himself. Having started playing at blues clubs in his hometown of Austin when he was 14 years old, Clark possesses the experience of a much older man. Now, at 28, he has been able to soak in the knowledge and influences of those years into his new album, Blak and Blu, which is fully realized in a live setting.
It would be a disservice to your ears not to listen to the live wonderment of Gary Clark Jr. when KCRW airs this installment of its Berkley Street Sessions on Morning Becomes Eclectic on December 4th.
(photo credit: Jeremiah Garcia)