Gary Clark Jr. and Special Guests Black Pistol Fire
Saturday 14th November 2015
Electric Ballroom, Camden, London, United Kingdom
This was the first of three sold-out shows at The Electric Ballroom in the heart of Camden, United Kingdom for Texan guitarist Gary Clark Jr and on entry to the venue we could see how packed with people it was on this rainy November night.
The opening act Black Pistol Fire are a rock duo based out of Austin, Texas by way of Toronto, Canada; composed of Kevin McKeown on guitar/lead vocals and Eric Owen on drums. Owen’s drumming was fast-paced and when it came to guitar and overall stage presence McKeown was certainly not lacking in energy. They were well received by the crowd and a very good support for Gary Clark Jr.
Then at exactly seven fifty Gary Clark Jr (donning his signature black hat) and his three piece band walked onstage to loud cheers and applause before opening with fan favourite ‘Bright Lights’ from his 2012 album release ‘Blak and Blu’ and the crowd went crazy as he played his red Gibson SG with such precision.
‘Ain’t No Messin ‘Round’ was a highlight with funky drums courtesy of Johnny Radelat who currently resides in Austin, Texas. With his Gretsch drums and Sabian cymbals the song sounded like it was from the Sixties and the wah-wah guitar had hints of The Spencer Davis Group’s ‘Gimme Some Lovin’.
The intro for ‘When My Train Pulls In’ was eerie and blended perfectly with Gary’s crisp lead vocal as it lead us on a musical trip to Jamaica via America as the guitar had a delay effect. Meanwhile ‘Travis County’ was a rock n’ roll tune about being in jail and it was Gary channeling his inner Chuck Berry. Bass player Johnny Bradley worked well with Radelat in keeping the sound tight.
Pausing for a moment, Gary explained that the next song was dedicated to the people of Paris after the horrific terrorist attacks that took place a couple of days before and the crowd clapped in support as he went into ‘Hold On’ taken from his new album ‘The Story of Sonny Boy Slim’. (Gary was scheduled to perform at Le Bataclan in Paris on 18th November.) The chorus ‘Hold on, we’re gonna make it’ was about resilience during our struggles in life and it was very moving. I would’ve like to have heard it performed with a horn section but that’s more of a suggestion rather than a criticism.
Gary had very soulful vocals on ‘Our Love’ which were not dissimilar to Marvin Gaye and ‘Numb’ had very heavy bass drum but it was ‘Don’t Owe You A Thang’ which saw rhythm guitarist King Zapata (real name Eric Zapata) rock out in a solo on this Seasick Steve-esque song. Gary then told us that he had been to Amsterdam and he was gonna do something he hadn’t done in a while. The song ‘BYOB’ was essentially an ‘Ode to Amsterdam’ but it was like an old Motown or Chess Records recording and I really thing that Gary Clark Jr and Mayer Hawthorne should collaborate as I think it would have real potential.
For me, ‘You Saved Me’ lacked a bit of punch from its predecessors but ‘Shake’ made up for that as it was an up-tempo feelgood number that had the entire crowd moving. ‘Grinder’ was a blues-rock romp whilst ‘The Healing’ was Gary singing about the music that he loves and its importance. I mean after all, John Lee Hooker said ‘The blues is a healer’ and he couldn’t be more right.
Whilst the band were off stage the crowd chanted ‘Gary!’ and cheered when the band returned for the encore which started with ‘Church’ which allowed us to hear Gary play harmonica, something which he doesn’t do enough of in my view as he is very talented. It is a beautiful song and his vocals were incredibly tender (the musical equivalent of Barbecue Pulled Pork).
In conclusion, Gary Clark Jr. is definitely up there with the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Jonny Lang, John Mayer, Laurence Jones, Jared James Nichols, Dan Patlansky, Joanne Shaw Taylor and countless others who are helping not only keep blues music alive but are also helping the genre reach a younger audience which is absolutely fantastic.
In addition, Gary Clark Jr. has some really well-written songs but like so many artists, his studio albums don’t get the raw live performance energy across and the stage is his true calling. In terms of the venue I like the element of intimacy at a gig but as these dates were so popular I felt like The Electric Ballroom may have oversold the dates and at times I couldn’t hear Gary talking to the audience and this was also the case for Black Pistol Fire.
I hope that Gary returns to the UK for a tour and brings a horn section with him to enhance the sound of his incredible highly-skilled band. The only thing that the show organizers need to keep in mind is matching his popularity with venue capacity so maybe when he returns to these shores he should play two nights at the 02 Shepherds Bush Empire or one night at The Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith for example.
Gary Clark Jr.’s new album ‘The Story of Sonny Boy Slim’ is out now on Warner Brothers Records on CD and vinyl. To purchase his new album and for more information visit: http://www.garyclarkjr.com/
For more information about Black Pistol Fire visit: http://blackpistolfire.com/
(Feature Image credited to Frank Maddocks courtesy of Warner Brothers Records)