When you play the guitar as spectacularly as Gary Clark Jr. does, you really don’t need a lot of words. His masterful solos speak for themselves.
Clark’s rage in “This Land” is evident in the solo as much as it is in his declaration, “This land is mine.” The swooping solo in “I Got My Eyes on You” conjures up the complicated feelings as much as the conflicted lyrics. And there is pure joy in the straightforward Ramones-like punk of “Gotta Get Into Something.”
For nearly two hours at his Beacon Theatre show Thursday night, the first of his three-night run, Clark and his four-piece backing band delivered a compelling survey of rock styles to translate his thoughts into music, showcasing songs from his standout new album “This Land.” There was plenty of blues, a bit of punk, rock flavored with bits of funk and hip-hop, and even some Led Zeppelin-like bombast on “When My Train Pulls In.”
It all built to a stunning set-closing, one-two punch. First, there was the powerful “This Land” — the defiant statement inspired by a neighbor who questioned how a black man like him could possibly own a 50-acre farm near Austin, Texas — which became even more intense as Clark’s snarling solos became even more pointed and acrobatic live. That was balanced by the lovely, grateful “Pearl Cadillac,” with its lengthy, gorgeous intro, allowing the fury of “This Land” to fade, before Clark began his tribute to his mother. His tender, Prince-ly falsetto was even more poignant as he sang, “I was searching for some kinda way to pay you back for your love, your love, your love,” especially the more he repeated the phrase. It turned into a beautiful moment that made a powerful statement about racial injustice — confronting it, but not letting it take over your life. He returned with an encore of The Beatles’ “Come Together,” introducing it with one of his few statements of the night, asking the crowd, “Can you help me out?”
If there was any doubt about Clark becoming rock’s breakout star of 2019 after the release of “This Land,” the way he rolled those songs out live should put it to rest.
SETLIST: Bright Lights / The Guitar Man / When I’m Gone / Low Down Rolling Stone / What About Us / Our Love / Feed the Babies / Feelin’ Like a Million / Got to Get Up / I Got My Eyes on You (Locked & Loaded) / Gotta Get Into Something / I Walk Alone / When My Train Pulls In / This Land / Pearl Cadillac // ENCORE: Come Together