I fell in love with the sound of electric guitar at an early age and have been fascinated by the pioneers and virtuosos who have traveled the galaxy with only six strings. The upshot of this is while I'm predisposed to love the guitar gods, I've heard enough of them and their various tricks and am a bit more difficult to impress. There are tons of guys with chops who can shred, tap, and bend the strings or make the guitar sound like anything but a guitar but far fewer who speak through their instrument, making you feel something beyond words.
Gary Clark Jr's show in Nashville last week encapsulated so much of what I love about him as an artist and guitar player. He has a vision and a sound that, while influenced by others, is distinctly his own. He can piledrive your ass with atomic riffs and melt your face with nova-hot licks and I loved hearing him do it.
It would be impossible for me to pick a favorite moment of the show but there was one where Clark demonstrated another facet of his guitar mastery. He came out for the first song of the encore by himself and proceeded to play a gorgeous rendition of Big Bill Broonzy's "(In The Evening) When The Sun Goes Down." There were no tricks or gimmicks and the licks are gentle. This is just a man and his guitar, creating a connection and evoking a feeling. It was pure and beautiful; I can close my eyes and remember just a piece of what I felt as I watched and listened. That, kids, is a guitar hero. Take away all the tricks and toys: can they still move you. Gary Clark Jr. can.
This clip is from his show at SXSW earlier this year and it comes very close to what I heard in Nashville that special night. I heard it at night in a dark club and this was filmed outdoors during daylight hours several weeks apart but the feeling is nearly the same because the power is in the performer and the song.