“You’re gonna know my name by the end of the night,” promises Gary Clark Jr, with his honeyed voice, on the muscular blues stomp “Bright Lights”, and, apart from a few very early absconders, he's probably right.
No one at a packed, clammy Cargo could lightly disregard this 28-year-old blues dynamo from Austin, Texas after this accomplished performance. He’s a polished live performer, who embodies the delta blues and psychedelic rock, with a smattering of R&B, rock’n’roll and soul (particularly on the softer number “Things Are Changin’").
On the whole Clark's woe-is-me lyrics are not terribly taxing – “Ooh, come on home, girl” he repeats ad nauseam on, aptly, “Please Come Home”, and pleads “I don’t owe you a thing” repeatedly on… wait for it… “I Don’t Owe You a Thing”, but it barely matters. It’s about all about Clark’s extraordinary connection with the guitar, mesmerising and distorted on the electric, finger picking exquisitely on the acoustic.
There have already been tired, unavoidable comparisons with Hendrix, but the guitarist also recalls Peter Green, Buddy Collins, Prince (who, vocally, he sounds uncannily like on “Please Come Home”), Howlin’ Wolf and Chuck Berry.
Clark, still relatively unknown in the UK (although he did support Springsteen this summer), has collaborated with Alicia Keys, enraptured American festival audiences throughout the summer and played “Catfish Blues” for the Obamas (Barack visibly tickled, nodding his greying head in approval) at a special White House performance. It certainly helps that the statuesque, dapper musician, sporting a pork-pie hat and a sleek black jacket tonight, looks like a film star, and, unsurprisingly, he’s already played a fresh-faced blues man, Sonny Blake, who saves the day for Danny Glover’s rundown juke joint in John Sayles’s evocative 1950s-set Honeydripper.
Still to release his debut album (it’s out on 22 October) he showcases the long-player, Blak and Blue, tonight, playing sprawling tracks such as "Numb" and "When My Train Pulls In" for as long as he feels like; some are full-on, wig-out hoedowns. In-between numbers, the laconic bluesman keeps banter to a bare minimum. I counted nine words in total, mostly consisting of "London". He keeps his personality closely guarded, only the music matters.
This resolutely authentic musician has been championed as a blues saviour, and he's an ideal performer for a show such as Jools Holland's annual Hootenanny, but frankly it's a battle tonight against the incessant hubbub in this intimate venue. Clark's immense talent deserves a bigger platform.Reuse content