On 30 May 2014, AB proposed an exquisite show for a nice warm Friday evening: the Austin Texas singer/songwriter Gary Clark Jr. and the Belgian band The DeVilles.
Formed in 2008, winners of the Rockvonk in 2011 and support act for Gary Clark Jr. in 2014, what a steady ascendance for The DeVilles. But not without hard work, lots of rock and roll attitude and more than 150 gigs so far. The trio plays a straightforward rock and roll rooted in the 70s, roughly-edged with raw blues influences. The rhythm is easy to catch as the drumming is powerful, cadenced and exact; all the same time, the sound of the electric guitar constantly keeps the levels up and leads the sound. Still, what holds me back from being totally into them it’s that they don’t seem to play around with the intensity: their energetic and powerful sound is set at the loudest possible level from first to last tone.
Gary Clark Jr.
It was with great excitement that Gary Clark Jr. was expected to come back in AB Brussels and I could say that by the enthusiasm of the audience formed mostly of young people. Were they there for the blues, for the Grammy awards winner or for the “next Jimi Hendrix” as Clark was called by the New York Times?
A blunt X-ray of the concert would reveal one and a half hour setlist of 15 songs in various genres, played on different guitars switched in between for 8 times during the set. In flesh and bones, despite being a well-acclaimed rising star, his stage presence is uncomplicated: a young musician wearing jeans, t-shirt and a hat, with a professional attitude and no fancy speeches, accompanied by another guitarist, a drummer and a bass-player.
He started off the show by setting up the scene in Mississippi with the Robert Petway’s Catfish Blues cover and continued to expand the setlist into a variety of genre and styles:
soul and R&B (“Please Come Home”, “Things are Changin’”), rock and roll (“Travis County”) and of course more blues (“When My Train Pulls In,” “Numb,” “Next Door Neighbor Blues”). The common ground here is the distinctive sound of his guitar, no matter if it’s played in harmony with the other instruments, performing a solo or following the vocal lines.
As tribute to the generations of blues legends he is carrying upon his shoulders, other covers were elegantly performed last night: a mighty workout of B.B. King’s “3 O’Clock Blues” which was the first song with a distinctive blues solo guitar, making everybody crazy about Clark’s skills, and a cover of “If Trouble Was Money” (Albert Collins).
For the encore, he has done his own interpretation of the Leroy Carr’s cover – “In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down)”, ending the show alone on stage in an acoustic and harmonica performance.
My favorite tune was “When My Train Pulls In”, as it holds within the Hendrixian spirit at its most. And “Numb” for its surprisingly spacey psychedelic components. The perfection of their performance left me with the desire for an entire live show in this texture. So, I couldn’t help it wondering: why the other styles? Is he still searching for his own authenticity while trying to remain grateful to the old school blues spirit? But, as someone said to me: “wouldn’t be a pity and a waste for all this high quality diversity to be dragged into your on box of expectations?”
I guess the big controversy on Gary Clack jr. is that he is not afraid to cover a wide variety of genres (traditional blues, rock, rock’n’roll, R&B), which may easily lead to a impression of lack of consistency and cohesion in style. But there is a definite inner need for diversity in his performance. There is a lot of fastidiousness. And at the same time, there is a lot of respect for his roots and ancestors.
Blues has evolved constantly since the end of the 19th century but has considerably lost ground to other mainstream genres in the last decades. Gary Clark Jr. might be the one to change the state of play and bring the blues back in the spotlight of our modern 21st century. And we have to admit it: with Gary Clark Jr., blues has never been cooler.