If you were to ingest every bit of hype surrounding Gary Clark Jr., you’d be inclined to believe he is the Second Coming; a divine presence sent from above to restore world peace, end the financial crisis, and fix up Melbourne’s Observation wheel.
The New York Times labelled Clark Jr. “the next Hendrix.” Rolling Stone compared him to Mick Jagger, Kurt Cobain, and a dozen other game changers. Seldom has there been a bad word spoken about the man, save for a few impotent keyboard warriors on YouTube.
While at Tone Deaf our humble opinion may not quite have the same reach of those publications, we can confidently proclaim Clark Jr. is the rarest of beasts. Muscular, rampaging, powerful; any number of adjectives could be thrown his way but few words do him proper justice.
Cherry Bar – still Melbourne’s musical jewel in the crown – was bursting at her britches. You could argue her size was simply too impractical to host an artist the calibre of Clark Jr. and it became the type of gig where leaving your ideal vantage point for a drink meant having to resort to peering over shoulders from the back of the room.
Providing support duties was the two-piece attack of Chris Russell’s Chicken Walk. Impressive in sound and scope, their set was capped off by a stunning – and perhaps impromptu – a capella performance that contrasted nicely with their standard bluesy swagger.
Without a guitar in his clasp, Clark Jr. appears relatively ‘normal looking’ on stage. Moderately dressed in a bucket hat and v-neck tee, he doesn’t appear to give off the aura of a virtuoso.
This changes dramatically as soon as he bends his first note. Beads of sweat begin to drench the Texan’s rough stubble and the rickety ceiling fans do little to cool the intensity of his delivery.
It is an appreciative audience that responds to his fearless soloing and remarkable improvisation. Sure, among the attendees are a few hangers-on who are only there to update their Facebook status, but they are few and far between.
Unleashing tracks off his four-track EP Bright Lights, Clark Jr. is quick to prove his wizardry is not just restricted to his Epiphone Casino six-string. His performance of ‘Please Come Home’, demonstrates a soothing and confident falsetto. ‘Don’t Owe You A Thang’ explores a penchant for 1950s rock-boogie while ‘Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round’ is arguably the poppiest tune in his repertoire.
After a brief tease, the band puts ‘Bright Lights’ to work. It’s even more a muscular force live compared to its recorded counterpart with the band adding a number of extended flourishes throughout.
By the time they’re done the crew looks exhausted, Clark Jr. is covered in sweat and the collective ears of the crowd have an unrelenting ring. How they could possibly back the same show up at The Tote the following night is beyond reckoning.
What was supposed to be a ‘soft launch’ in anticipation of his Big Day Out tour next year turned into an hour-and-a-half tour de force. The saddest aspect is that we may never again see him in such an intimate venue.
Unlike other artists whose hype hinders rather than assists, the virtuosity of Clark Jr. – both live and in the studio – seems destined to spread and endure.