Review + Photos: Gary Clark Jr. @ The Ritz – Manchester

During the summer of 2013 Gary Clark Jr. graced the main stage in Hyde Park supporting The Rolling Stones on their glorious return to the venue. Producing a blistering afternoon set on a glorious summer’s day, he introduced 80,000 music fans to his unique concoction of authentic blues, R & B and soul. Returning to the UK the following year, he played much smaller venues, offering his dedicated fans the opportunity to experience his expert craftsmanship up close and personal and the intimacy of these stages amplified his dynamic guitar work to earsplitting levels. With incredible support from Aussie rockers Money For Rope enhancing the experience, the Manchester show at Academy 3 was not only the gig of the year; it may be my favourite concert ever! As the Austin, Texas local emerges from the shadows at the rear of the stage this evening, the question begs to be asked; can he add to this growing collection of incredible moments again.

Clark’s sophomore album for Warner Brothers (two, hard to find records were released for the Hotwire Unlimited label in 2004 and 2008) dropped in September, demonstrating significant developments in his vision as the bluesy dynamic began to fuse more consistently with the soul, gospel and R & B element and The Story of Sonny Boy Slim is ultimately a more rewarding experience than Blak and Blue as a result, offering the listener a plethora of pleasures upon each visit. It is a highlight from the latter that opens the show this evening though. After an atmospheric, slow-burning introduction, Gary Clark Jr. breaks into Bright Lights which turns out to be quite ironic considering the evening is performed in near-darkness, with Clark appearing as an enigmatic silhouette for much of the show. Travis County quickly follows and the straight down the line rock n’ roll track that appears on record is presented in a darker, grungier manner this evening signaling the Texan’s desire to shake his songs up, unafraid to present them in new configurations.

Our Love is the first song from the new record performed tonight. Luxuriously mellow synths provide the texture on this track on record and these are sadly missing this evening. Nevertheless, the song provides satisfying respite from the blisteringly accomplished guitar work that Clark is famous for and this is a significant string to his masterful bow as he is able to provide such incredible shifts in style, whilst still retaining the authenticity of each genre he performs. The gospel spirit of next track Cold Blooded is a case in point.

It appears this is not necessarily what the crowd here tonight have come for and they only really come to life when Clark rips into one of his brutal solos, of which there are many and Ain’t Messin ‘Round and When My Train Pulls In satisfy all as he bewitches the crowd with extended moments of searing musical excellence so innovative and expressive that the crowd look on open-mouthed in their appreciation. The rap solo on the former track is a particular highlight! Gary Clark Jr. is certainly no one-trick pony though and a convincing cover of If Trouble Was Money follows, leaving us in no doubt that venerable blues figures such as Albert Collins still provide the benchmark that he strives to achieve with his own material.

The general tempo of the evening is certainly down compared to the Texan’s last visit to Manchester. Extended touring and a grueling weekend in Glastonbury a few days earlier have possibly affected Clark’s energies, but the slow-burning atmosphere of You Saved Me still provide hypnotic moments to savour and just as it seems Clark may be flagging, he returns for an immense six track encore full of cool soul, silky vocals and immense guitar work that  cements his position as one of the most significant artists plying their trade today. Barack Obama claimed that Gary Clark Jr. was the future of rock and roll when he performed at the White House back in 2012. Well, four years on, the evening’s jaw dropping entertainment from  this modest man from Texas proves that the future is here!

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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto

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