I love live music and live albums but those are only two of the reasons I was thrilled when Gary Clark Jr. announced plans to release Live. I was frustrated that some songs on Blak & Blu sound glossy and overproduced. I've seen Clark in concert knew that sheen evaporates in the fire of Clark's mastery and intensity. A live album seemed the ideal way to hear Clark and these songs at their best.
That's true here but only to a point. Live albums should be complete, single shows but very few major label live sets adhere to this. I've accepted this is unlikely to change, even though it should. Many artists have been able to cobble together live albums from multiple shows that feel representative of what that tour was like, an "any given night" aesthetic, if you will. We don't get that here. We get 15 performances culled from the extensive touring Clark and his band have been doing in the run up to and following the release of his major label debut. The production and presentation on the album doesn't provide a unified sound or listening experience, even if he might well have played these songs in this order. It's a shame this set wasn't more thoughtfully assembled because Gary Clark Jr. is one of the most dynamic performers and talents we've seen grace the stage in quite some time.
Clark and his band exhibit passion and professionalism in each of those performances but the production, mix, and even at times just the sound quality itself sap a measure of the blood, fire, and urgency of these excellent performances. There are highlights to behold in this set: the Grammy-winning "Please Come Home" is more direct and just as beautiful as on record and his cover of "When The Sun Goes Down" is tender and warm. "When My Train Pulls In" and "Things Are Changing" have been with Clark for a long time and their significance to him is evident with the way he performs them every night. He rocks "Bright Lights" hard and explodes during the extending guitar solo. This set is frustrating because what is here is good and Clark fans will likely love it but it really could have been so much more. This could have been his At Fillmore East, a live album of such strength and quality that his studio recordings feel almost irrelevant. Those are lofty heights but this is no journeyman, either. He's that good and this live record could have been. I've seen him do it.
Blak And Blu and now Live are both compelling and worthy representations of Clark's skill as a singer, songwriter, interpreter, and guitarist. They also both leave us hoping the magic in the middle of it all is more fully realized when he returns with new music.