Photos: Gary Clark Jr. at Salt Lake City’s Red Butte Garden
Ever since Gary Clark Jr. started tearing the roofs off bars in Austin, Texas, his reputation as a blues guitar virtuoso has become legendary. Rolling Stone dubbed him "The Chosen One." But Clark Jr. may have proved it's possible to live up to that kind of hype, as the Grammy-winning guitarist blazed through an explosive performance at Red Butte Amphitheater Sunday night. In contrast to his first major label album, Blak and Blu, which was an eclectic and all-over mix of blues, R&B, soul and funk, Clark Jr. tore through a set almost entirely of the Texas-infused guitar blues that have earned him his reputation as one of the best young talents in music.
Opening song » If you needed a clue how the night was going to go, Clark Jr. — decked out in a black fedora and black shirt with rolled sleeves — laid it out there with his first song, a slow-building cover of "Catfish Blues," a Robert Petway tune popularized by Muddy Waters, which featured the first of several powerful guitar solos of the night.
Crowd favorite » Six songs into the night, Clark Jr. quietly mumbled into the microphone "Here's a little rock and roll," and unleashed "When My Train Comes In," with a wave of sound that finally got most of the typically sedate Red Butte crowd to their feet and had scores flooding toward the stage. Two songs later, he pounded out "Numb," with Johnny Radelet on drums and Johnny Bradley on bass providing a huge pulsating beat that hit the audience in the chest.
Encore » The cheering, standing audience welcomed Clark Jr. back on stage, where he opened the encore with a cover of Ray Charles' "In the Evening (When The Sun Goes Down)" and followed it up with a stellar version of Albert King's "Oh Pretty Woman."
Best musical moment » Clark Jr. finished the night with a phenomenal guitar solo capping "You Saved Me," taking the hooked audience on a lengthy, winding tour of his musical prowess and remarkable talent.
In the crowd » While the Clark Jr. fans packed the front of the stage dancing, the near-capacity Red Butte crowd, which skewed toward their 50s, took a few songs to warm up and get to their feet. By the midway point of his set, though, Clark Jr.'s impressive guitar licks were being met with cheers.
Light on banter » Clark Jr. moved quickly from song to song without a lot of chatter, except after "When My Train Comes In" when he asked the audience: "You all feel good? Cause you all look amazing." Instead he let his guitar do the talking, and it had a lot to say. As he sang in "Bright Lights," a hat-tip to bluesman Jimmy Reed that is credited with getting Clark Jr. discovered, "You're gonna know my name by the end of the night." Those who saw Clark Jr. Sunday night likely won't forget his name.
Surprise of the night » Black Pistol Fire, a power-duo splitting time between Toronto, Canada, and Austin that opened for Clark Jr. wowed the crowd, with its huge sound and guitarist and vocalist Kevin McKeown's amped-up performance. McKeown finished the night leaping into the crowd, dropping to his knees, thrashing his guitar, while drummer Eric Owens pounded out a relentless beat on a high-octane cover of Neil Young's "Ohio." Needless to say, these guys were not your typical opening act.