We’re immensely proud of the eclectic range of Austin City Limits – the variety of genres and locations from which our artists come is amazing. But it’s nice to for us to showcase the “Austin” in our name with a hometown hero. Gary Clark Jr. has been busting it in the River City for over a decade, and his hard work has paid off with a growing touring audience, high profile shows at major festivals (including the Austin City Limits Music Festival and Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival) and his much-acclaimed major label record Blak and Blu. He’s been with us before, as part of the Jimmy Reed tribute five years ago, but we were thrilled to welcome him back to the ACL stage, this time under his own name.
“I’ve been wanting to do this for like 16 years,” the young guitar slinger commented before he began. “So let’s have some fun!” There’s an irony to that statement being followed by the downhearted “When My Train Pulls In,” but the heavy blues riffs defied the lyrics’ melancholy cast. The show kicked into high gear immediately afterward with the driving fingerpicked boogie of “Don’t Owe You a Thang,” and the hometown crowd settled into the palm of his hand. “@garyclarkjr is slaying @acltv right now mayne!!!,” claimed tonythecuate on Twitter.
Though the blues forms the heart of his music, Clark is more than just a blues man. “Travis County,” a tune he claims is “about my younger days runnin’ around and gettin’ into trouble,” rocked like Chuck Berry with hair on his chest. “Ain’t Messin’ Round” added a horn section for a jumpin’ soul number, while “Things Are Changin’” and the falsetto-sung “Please Come Home” worked enough R&B magic to prove that Clark will be known as much for his silky singing as for his six-string skills. He also created an epic medley of Jimi Hendrix’ instrumental showcase “Third Stone From the Sun” and Little Johnny Taylor’s funky soul tune “If You Love Me Like You Say” that had the audience roaring by the end. “GC Jr has really come into form these last 4 years. Truly phenomenal guitar player/ singer/ songwriter nowadays,” commented fan Jason Long.
As much versatility as Clark demonstrated, however, he didn’t forget the blues that originally inspired him. He paid tribute to key influences early on by covering Albert Collins’ “If Trouble Was Money” (“one of my favorite songs,” he noted) and Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues.” His own original “Bright Lights” put a psychedelic shimmer on the ages-old form, while the grungy “Numb” recalled the days when the blues formed the basis of heavy metal.
The crowd was buzzed enough once the main set was over, but Clark wasn’t done with us yet. His three-song encore delivered original country blues in “Next Door Neighbor,” more heart-throb soul with “You Saved Me” and a canny Albert King cover with “Oh, Pretty Woman,” featuring Clark and his co-guitarist Zapata! trading licks in tribute to the late blues man. When it was all over, the crowd was left exhausted but ecstatic. “@GaryClarkJr just absolutely tore a hole in the roof of this joint. Amazing set! Doing his hometown proud!!” boasted Nakia on Twitter. “I just raised him on my list from “who is this guy” to “have to buy a CD” and “watch for him playing close by”! GroovyHoovy,” exhulted David Hoover on YouTube.
Gary Clark Jr. has come a long way from being a teenager playing blues standards in bars he wasn’t old enough to drink in. We’re proud to host his coming out party and can’t wait for everybody to see the episode, It’ll air in February next year – don’t miss it!