Gary Clark Jr.
w/ Aaron Tokona
Shed 6, Wellington
Sunday 29 March 2015
A few years ago my friend Sam and I flew up to Auckland for a few concerts at Vector Arena. The first show was Weezer playing their first album (known as the “Blue Album”) in its entirety. A few nights later Red Hot Chili Peppers played at the same venue . It was a great trip and both shows were awesome. The standout band though, was Gary Clark Jr, one of the acts who opened for the Chilis.
I’d never listened to him beforehand, but Clark and his band caught my attention straight away. He was something else. So smooth. So slick. He had a swagger about him that just reeked of cool. They only played four songs, but that was more than enough to make a lasting impression.
When I got home I immediately looked him up and started accumulating his music. My girlfriend bought the Black and Blu LP for me. I ordered a Gary Clark Jr/ Son House split from Daytrotter. There was a mixtape hosted at datpiff that featured a more hip-hop flavour. He also featured on a catchy little Cody ChesnuTT b-side.
[ChesnuTT was my other musical discovery that year. I saw him play in Wellington on his birthday and he was outstanding.]
Since then I’ve noticed Clark pop up here and there, slowly gaining popularity. There was a cameo on the film Chef, and a Foo Fighters collaboration on the album/television series Sonic Highways.
And now finally he has returned to New Zealand to headline his own shows, as an extension of the Byron Bay Bluesfest.
This was my first time in Shed 6 since it has been refurbished as an alternative to the Wellington Town Hall. It was a similar size to Town Hall, and didn’t seem to suffer from the terrible acoustics that neighbouring venue TSB Arena is so notorious for.
No support act had been announced, so I was pleased to recognise Aaron Tokona (Cairo Knife Fight, Ahoribuzz) when he graced the stage. He opened his set with “Calling On”, the biggest single from his 90’s rock band Weta. For the ensuing half an hour, Tokona noodled around on his guitar and messed with his effect pedals, displaying his mastery over his instrument. It’s hard to say who enjoyed the set more out of Tokona and the audience, because he was clearly having a ball onstage. He strummed and plucked and tapped as he gyrated around. He even sheepishly took a selfie in front of the crowd. “I’ve never done this before” he confessed, “but all my mates do it.”
“Now I can show my 13-year-old daughter that I’m cool!” he grinned after taking the snap.There was no telling how much of his set was rehearsed or spontaneous, but Tokona managed to impress and entertain us with his abilities.
Gary Clark Jr and his band were sublime. The highlight of the set for me was “When My Train Pulls In”. I got so excited from the first note. There was a familiar light strum to check the tuning, and he started building feedback and the drummer washed up his cymbals, before a pause, and then that riff. That riff that is so laid back, so groovy. It sounded so effortless. It was nirvana. It was only about four songs into the set, but after that song I could have happily left satisfied.
Not that I needed to leave. The following song, “Don’t Owe You A Thing”, really bumped the energy up, before Clark lowered the mood with “Please Come Home”. And both songs were great. Every song was great, truth be told. Ballad or anthem, cover or original, the musicians on stage all played exceptionally well and left the audience awestruck.
There was a sound that permeated the set – a dirty, raw blues vibe. Although it’s a great record, Black and Blu sounded overly polished. It was too sedate and clean to capture the true essence of the songs. But in a live setting the songs come to life. Most songs were long and drawn out with endless solos.
Clark opened the set with a slide on his finger, and finished with devastating solo and feedback. And in every song between he proved why he has a guitar legend status. It’s not hard to see why all the Hendrix comparisons get made. Clark even covered a Hendrix song, “Third Stone From The Sun”. He scratched up and down the string, making DJ noises, and messed with the tempo by having the band gradually speed up before reverting back to the original speed.
The encore was an unreleased love song (from the forthcoming album) that Clark played solo. It seemed basic compared to many of the other songs, but it seemed to cast a spell over the crowd. He followed with “Black and Blu”, before his band mates joined him for a stunning rendition of the closing song “Bright Lights”
This was the gig that I had most been looking forward to all year. And it more than surpassed my expectations. Not only was the opening act Aaron Tokona thoroughly entertaining, but Clark and his band put on a such a stellar two-hour set of soulful bluesy rock that I can’t help but rave about how good it was. It was slick, yet laid back. Impressive, but seemingly effortless. Clark and his boys have the skills to wow. If you get the chance to see them play, do. They won’t disappoint.