Gary Clark Jr. – The Bowery Ballroom – November 5, 2012
In a time when we learn too much too quickly about up-and-coming musicians for them to carry any mysticism, Gary Clark Jr. is the anomaly. Last night, an over-stuffed Bowery Ballroom watched him emerge from a haze of swirling colored lights, his silhouette nodding as his left hand raced around the neck of his Epiphone and his right furiously plucked out the notes. The trippy psych-rock intro bled right into “If You Love Me Like You Say,” which had the capacity crowd whooping even five-people deep in the balcony.
From that point on, Clark’s set confirmed—and built on—that mythic hype that’s surrounded him. He juked back and forth between blues-standard jams and gritty rock and roll, and whichever way he leaned musically, it was always coupled with his masterful and undeniably smooth soloing. Clark’s playing was dynamically rich, switching from slashing chords to palm-muted fingerpicking in the blink of an eye, all with improvisational chops akin to that of a jazz musician.
Clark’s terrific rhythm section didn’t hurt either, nor did his other guitarist, Zapata!, adorned in a fedora and oversized chain, with whom Clark dueled on a few songs, including “Things Are Changin’.” Countless musicians are overwhelmingly overhyped these days, often to the point that we’re numb to their abilities before we even see them play. But maybe just this once it has been justified, because, as the sold-out crowd can attest, Gary Clark Jr. is worth the hype. —Sean O’Kane