ROCK REVIEW / Big thing in a little package: Giles Smith on the small but perfectly performed Gary Clark at Camden Jongleurs, London
The stages he gets them on tend to be tiny at the moment. As a result of splitting up his band and starting over, Clark is back in venues like Camden Jongleurs, where you walk on through the audience at the side and then find yourself on a performing surface about the size of two tables pushed together. Even so, it was hard to think of another pop performance from this year which has carried itself off with such involving panache, or brought so much evident glee to its material - except, perhaps, Gary Clark's show at the Hammersmith Apollo last month.
Then, he was playing opening act for Deacon Blue. For 20 minutes, armed only with some acoustic instruments and a group of backing singers, he sang a cluster of songs from his new album and a couple of Danny Wilson favourites, deftly arranged, stacked with rich harmonies, executed with ease. It was the kind of fluently winning performance that gets support acts thrown off bills. There was no point hanging around afterwards for the main attraction. They would have had nothing to add.
Somewhere between there and headline status, Clark has paused to re-arrange the show for electric instruments and a full drum kit, but, as was immediately clear, has spent no time whatsoever in wardrobe. And nor had his players. Clad in a selection of black jackets, baggy jeans and old jumpers, they looked like they might have come round to re-carpet your front room - though this only made the efficiency of the show look more impressively casual.
Boo Hewerdine was on guitar and backing vocals, his clear tone a neat foil for Clark's more breathy kinds of anguish. (Clark made room for a nippy version of Hewerdine's 'Little Bits of Zero' mid-way through the set.) And on bass was the former Danny Wilson member Ged Grimes. A tall man in a small club, Grimes spent the evening risking his hair in the overhead lighting. There were no such problems for Clark who has virtually done away with hair altogether. He picked up a thick-bodied guitar and led the band into 'St Jude', a slow number which gradually gathers itself into a passionate anthem. The show went from nought to 70 in a little under three minutes.
After that, we got 'Desert Hearts', at which point Gary Thomson, wedged behind an electric piano, somehow found space to stand up and puff into a trumpet. And then from the new album came 'Freefloating' and 'Let's Make a Family', which contrives to be at once a foot-tapper and toe-curlingly sentimental - like so many good pop songs. Clark's references are easy to spot - a bit of Beatles, a lot of Steely Dan - but this is just another way of saying that his songs are well tailored, packed with hooks. A cover of the Isley Brothers' 'Summer Breeze' sat comfortably near Clark's own sing-along - 'Mary's Prayer'. His voice is the unique thing, hunting for new ways to tease out the chorus melodies each time they return, his head whipping in and out of the microphone, his face creased out of shape by the exertion.
Clark's brother Kit jumped up with an accordion at the end, converting the encores into a reunion for the original Danny Wilson trio - but let's not start that name business again.
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