Clark had a surprise for the crowd, opting to play unreleased songs rather than familiar ones.
The last time Gary Clark, Jr. played Cain’s Ballroom, it was a sold out two-night stand touring in support of his most recent release, a live album featuring performances from his 2016 tour, “Live North America 2016.” In fact, Clark has not released a new studio record since 2015 with “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim.” His sets from his 2017 Cain’s dates were packed with quote-unquote “all the hits” from his debut “Blak and Blu” (2012) as well as the aforementioned “Sonny Boy Slim.”
The shows were mind-bending and each included the blues influence that can be heard on his records but is truly at the forefront of his live performance. Since then, he has remained busy, appearing on awards shows, opening for Eric Clapton, selling out a run at The Fillmore and bringing Carlos Santana on stage and picking up a keyboard player in his band somewhere along the way. He has teased new material and a new studio record recently, but there has been no single or any full track released from his new project.
Clark defies the traditional album-tour cycle mentality, because his new record is not slated to be released until January. So when he returned to Cain’s on Thursday, Nov. 8, I had no clue what I would be walking into. His opener, fellow Austin native Tameca Jones was phenomenal and had a very tight band backing her soulful singing. Her cover of Benny and the Jets had Cain’s dancing like I have never seen.
After Jones’ set at about 9:30, “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights” by Johnny “Guitar” Watson played through the ballroom’s public address system as Gary and the band made their grand entrance. The show started off with “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round,” “Next Door Neighbor Blues” and “When My Train Pulls In” (an early highlight of the show for me), all three cuts from his first record. After these opening songs, he asked the crowd if it was okay for him to dive into some “new stuff.”
The show that followed was the most artistically-progressive I have seen Clark. In fact, eight of the 16 songs played in the set were new and unreleased. It seems as if through this new material, Clark is starting to not necessarily shed his blues roots, but progress his style and prove his artistic value outside of songs rooted in the blues. Punk and grunge has always been a big influence to Clark, but it is finally really coming out in the songs. I thought that one of his new songs, “Gotta Get Into,” was a Sex Pistols cover before realizing it was an original.
One of the highlights of the new songs was one he dedicated to his mom, “Pearl Cadillac,” and I look forward to listening to it with more intent when the record is released in January. After closing his set with “Bright Lights,” he returned for an encore that included a duet with Tameca Jones, as well as an extended blues jam with one of his mentors, Tony Redman, who Gary introduced and brought on stage.
The final song of the night was one of Gary’s more raucous numbers, “Don’t Owe You A Thang,” which was the perfect way to close out the set. I’m sure many like me missed some of the expected songs, but I was more than happy to trade out songs I’ve heard Gary do before so that I could get a live preview of his new record.