REVIEW: Gary Clark Jr. Sings the Blues at Carnegie Hall

The incomparable Gary Clark Jr took his talents to one of music’s most renowned stages on Thursday night – New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall – for an intimate performance in front of a sold out crowd, during which he serenaded fans with a number of covers as would be expected of any good blues man. The story of Gary Clark Jr’s rise to blues fame from otherwise unknown is rather incredible, when you consider that he appeared at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival just 6 years ago and since then has played with virtually everyone from blues legends like Buddy Guy to the biggest of international rock stars, performing with The Rolling Stones on multiple occasions.

Gary Clark Jr is actually the first blues show we’ve covered here at Soundboard Magazine, and my first time at Carnegie Hall despite living in NYC my entire life. I’m not really classy enough for that place, but a good blues show will get me to go pretty much anywhere, and Gary Clark Jr certainly qualifies. And put on a good show he did, kicking the whole thing off with a cover of the Leroy Carr classic In The Evening with his own acoustic spin – Leroy Carr, of course, is the great blues pianist who influenced the one and only Ray Charles – and kicking off an intimate show with one of the greatest blues songs ever written was nice touch.

Among the selection of covers were a pair each from blues greats Jimmy Reed and the man known as the king of the slide guitar, Elmore James – Shame, Shame, Shame and Honest I Do by Reed and Please Find My Baby and The Sky is Crying by James -all with their own Gary Clark spin while still keeping true to the roots of all four songs, which takes guts to attempt and a world of talent to pull off.

Gary Clark Jr’s own songs, though, are what you come to hear, and there was no shortage of originals – until there was. The advertised running time was 8:15-10:15, though the show ended less than 90 minutes after it began, seemingly cut well short of the two hour allotment, leaving many fans, myself included, wanting to hear more despite being treated to 17 stellar songs. Among those were one of my absolute favorite songs of any genre, Bright Lights, which of course is a tune with direct references to this crazy city I live in.

Also featured on this night’s intimate set were the upbeat, blues-rock Don’t Owe You A Thang, as well as a stripped down, piano-less version of Hold On, along with Our LoveNumb, The Healing and Worry No More. Some electric, some acoustic, all stripped down to just Gary and his guitar, with an occasional harmonica thrown in for good measure. Clark would leave the stage albeit briefly, only to return for what I anticipated would be a long encore given that he was scheduled for another 35 minutes or so. Alas, that was not to be, as the show wrapped up with a one song encore of Shake, and that was that. Clark shook a few hands, waived to the crowd and the house lights came on.

While there were a few more songs I would have liked to hear, and maybe the wishful thinking of a surprise appearance by Buddy Guy or Eric Clapton – it was Carnegie Hall, after all – the set we were treated to was nothing short of spectacular for a one man show. Here at Soundboard Magazine, we’re used to guys flying around the stage like acrobats, so it was something of an adjustment having Gary Clark Jr sit in one spot on such a large stage, but that’s a what a good blues show is. BB King made a career out of sitting in a chair and plucking away at Lucille, and Gary Clark Jr is certainly on his way to being recognized in the same way. It’s hard to believe he’s only 32 and was only truly discovered in the last few years, but he’s going to be very good for a very long time. Here’s hoping Gary Clark Jr is sitting in a chair at 90 plucking away at a guitar.

Photo gallery incoming

Gary Clark Jr has left the building – Carnegie Hall 12/8/16