Tag Archives: Gary Clark Jr.


Benjamin Booker Proves to Be the Real Deal at Mercury Lounge

November 7th, 2014

Benjamin Booker – Mercury Lounge – November 6, 2014

Benjamin Booker – Mercury Lounge – November 6, 2014
There was little known about Benjamin Booker, a one-time aspiring music journalist, his last time through town to play Mercury Lounge in April. He had just a few singles, a minimal Internet presence and a pretty short bio: “Benjamin Booker is a young New Orleans–based singer-songwriter. He is influenced by the Gun Club, Blind Willie Johnson and T. Rex.” Since then, his sensational self-titled debut full-length was released to near unanimous praise and his profile has risen dramatically, thanks in part to an opening slot on tour with Jack White, fiery festival performances at Newport Folk Fest and Lollapalooza, and a national TV appearance on Letterman. So in some sense, seeing him last night at Mercury Lounge was like catching Alabama Shakes and Gary Clark Jr. there four days apart in December 2011—watching a musician play a room he’d already outgrown.

Booker’s debut LP showcases an evocative, whiskey-soaked voice that belies his young age. (Based on what he sounds like, you almost expect him to appear live in sepia tones or black and white.) Released this past August, it’s obviously a modern album, but from the very first listen, the punkish, soulful bluesy garage rock sounds familiar, like an unearthed gem from the past—not like you’d previously heard its influences, but rather you’d actually already heard this album. Performed live, alongside a pair of talented musicians, drummer-mandolinist Max Norton and bassist-fiddler Alex Spoto, songs like “Violent Shiver,” “Have You Seen My Son?” and “Old Hearts” grew into something more than their recorded versions, Booker’s raw, raspy vocals blossoming onstage as the trio jammed their way between tunes, often making a lot more joyful noise than your typical three-piece.

While incredibly expressive, Booker, who began performing live just two years ago, wasn’t particularly chatty. “It’s nice to be back at Mercury Lounge. We played here earlier in the year. It’s one of my favorite rooms. Here we go,” he said just before they lit into “Kids Never Grow Older,” a sweating Booker quietly barking out the opening stanza in a whispered snarl. Alternating between standing still with his left leg twisting in place and hopping across the stage, belting out distorted guitar riffs, he appeared to be every bit of a star in the making. No more so than as the show concluded with him, his guitar strap broken, shredding from his knees at center stage. Booker still has room—and time—to grow, and even despite singing, “The future is slow coming” in “Slow Coming,” in some ways, it feels like it’s here now, and Benjamin Booker has already arrived, fully formed. —R. Zizmor

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com


A Modern Band with a Throwback Sound at Rough Trade NYC

August 4th, 2014

U.S. Royalty – Rough Trade NYC – August 1, 2014

U.S. Royalty – Rough Trade NYC – August 1, 2014
After first hearing U.S. Royalty, you might wonder exactly which decade they were popular in and why you’d never heard of them before. Not long after that, you’ll realize that they aren’t a band from the past, but rather, they are just making out-of-this-time rock music while touring the country—in this millennium. The Washington, D.C., foursome brought their throwback sound to Rough Trade NYC on Friday night and dazzled the crowd there for an hour with an excellent blend of songs from their 2011 release, Mirrors, and their new record, Blue Sunshine. And while they might still be a band trying to make a name for themselves, they are certainly worth your time.

Most touring bands with a few years behind them boast a tight musical performance, but U.S. Royalty’s live show was impeccable. Singer John Thornley’s seemingly effortless voice (no easy feat considering some of the high notes he hits), led the way for the beautifully fuzzy melodies backed by lead guitarist Paul Thornley. When bassist Jacob Michael wasn’t keeping the rhythm with drummer Luke Adams, he was way up the neck of his bass, adding in musical touches that most bands would hire another guitarist to pull off.

Some of U.S. Royalty’s catchiest songs, like “Only Happy in the Country,” make you wonder why you at least haven’t heard this band in commercials. Throughout the set they skimmed the waters of psychedelic rock with the rip-roaring set closer “The Desert Won’t Save You,” glam rock with the Garland Jeffreys cover “Wild in the Streets,” and just about every other classic-rock iteration in between. It wouldn’t be hard to imagine them opening for anyone from Gary Clark Jr. to Portugal. The Man and fitting right in. And while their music might seem more at home surrounded by the crackle of aged vinyl, it’s a very good thing that they’re here with us now. —Sean O’Kane

Photos courtesy of Sean O’Kane | seanokanephoto.com


Gary Clark Jr. – Terminal 5 – November 16, 2013

November 18th, 2013

Photos courtesy of Jeremy Ross | jeremypross.com


Gary Clark Jr. Delivers

November 6th, 2012

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

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com


Stream New Gary Clark Jr. Album

October 23rd, 2012

By the time Gary Clark Jr. played Mercury Lounge last December, he was already too big for the venue. So when it was announced that he’d be playing The Bowery Ballroom on 11/4, 11/5 and 11/7, not only was the buzz around town palpable, but each show sold out quickly. But the good news is that even if you weren’t lucky enough to get a ticket, you can still stream his terrific new album, Blak and Blu, which was just released today.


A Guitar Hero Takes the Stage

December 14th, 2011

Gary Clark Jr. – Mercury Lounge – December 13, 2011

Gary Clark Jr. took the stage last night at Mercury Lounge and hit one chord on his guitar. The note hung in the air, resonating with distortion and feedback for several minutes. As the energy in the sold-out room grew, so did the anticipation and the expectation, until the band finally joined him in an explosion of rock and roll. Clark spent the better half of the next 80 minutes single-handedly reinvigorating the blues genre. His guitar playing was a sight to behold. When he got rolling, his playing seemed to grow fangs, vicious, rip-the-flesh-off-the-bone kind of stuff. But Clark was the full package, and his voice was as equally impressive, sweet, soulful and pure.

The comparisons are easy because he made them clear throughout his set: Jimi Hendrix, yes, but also the straight blues of Robert Johnson, the soulful R&B of Marvin Gaye on “Things Are Changing” and the unfettered rockabilly of Chuck Berry on “Going Out That Back Door.” The material is familiar—trains coming and going in time with love sought and lost—but we haven’t heard it like this, not for a long time. One 10-minute stretch summed it all up: A long distorted note made way for a blues jam that finally coalesced around Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun” before melting in a fury of guitar, bass and drums and becoming a ferocious “Gotta Set You Straight.”

After multiple red-meat solos, Clark stepped back and played rhythm while the rest of his band revealed they were a full-throated, not-too-shabby power trio of their own. Their jam dissolved into a drum solo before Clark re-emerged, weaving three or more mind-altering guitar solos with the “Third Stone” theme before finally coming to an end to let awestruck concertgoers process what they had just witnessed. Later, Clark was equally compelling on his own, playing two songs solo including a beautiful version of the traditional “Freight Train.” The set concluded well after midnight with his “hit” song, “Bright Lights,” which encapsulated the show with the bounty of pitch-perfect vocals, overlapping guitar solos, its NYC setting and the boast that “you’re going to know my name by the end of the night.” It ain’t bragging if it’s true. —A. Stein