April is such a great time of year for gigs thanks to the Bluesfest touring circuit. Thankfully this year, local audiences got to experience to the cream of the crop, with guitar superstar Gary Clark Jr joining the likes of Little Steven and Nathaniel Rateliff in adding an Adelaide date to his schedule.
Bringing along US based Aussie expat Hamish Anderson as a support act, we were treated to an exhibition of guitar mastery at Thebarton Theatre on ANZAC Day, in what was a grand celebration of modern blues music.
The guitar solo, once the staple of contemporary music, is now quite a rare commodity; but these two guitarists at the top of their game are defiantly claiming its relevance, deploying it in ways that feel current while managing to remain faithful to great legacy of their genre.
Handpicked by Clark, Hamish Anderson was the perfect opener for the evening. Having relocated from Melbourne to the States a few years back, you can detect a slight drawl to both his accent and his playing. An authentic bluesman, with a hint of country about the way he swings a telecaster, the move seems to be paying off for him. Sadly, this is not the kind of artist we really nurture in Australia anymore, but America is affording him some wonderful opportunities that he’s currently making the most of.
With an affable, unassuming stage presence and a tight three piece band (that featured some killer bass lines), Anderson took us on a brief trip through highlights from his debut LP and his sophomore release, due out next week. Armed with a nicely crafted set of songs, Anderson’s guitar work is excellent – able to easily switch from a searing solo into a firing off a Rolling Stones lick. Highlights from the 40 minute set included ‘Trouble’ and ‘No Good’. Anyone into good blues music should watch for his new album next week.
There’s a real energy to the way Gary Clark Jr and band play. The songs live are quite a different beast from how they are rendered in the studio, with extended instrumentation and a real snarl from Clark’s guitar that filled up the space at Thebby – particularly when he switched to his Flying V.
Naturally there were solos aplenty, but Clark also has a versatile voice that’s well suited to the music he plays: sweet falsetto when in soul mode or a gritty blues vocal in his natural voice. While both work well, it’s latter that leaves the lasting impression.
The setlist showed why This Land is one of the strongest album releases of 2019, with an excellent collection of compositions. Strangely though, the powerful title track was dropped from the show (despite appearing on the setlist) – a shame, given the song’s angry political statement and genre-bending sounds.
Highlights included the monster riffs of ‘Low Down Rolling Stone’, the Ramones-esque energy of ‘Gotta Get Into Something’ and the Prince inspired ‘Pearl Cadillac’ to end the main set, complete with extended ambient introduction from the keys.
The attractive hooks of ‘Guitar Man’ opened the encore before Hamish Anderson rejoined the stage for a chance to watch both guitar masters play off each other in grand style. Turning into an extended blues jam, this produced some of the best moments of the night with outstanding solo work from both artists.
Clark then ended the show with his gritty cover of ‘Come Together’ that had featured on the Justice League soundtrack. It proved a great way to finish off the night.
Clark is a strong presence that justifiably lets his guitar do the talking. However, he could do a little more to engage his audience between songs, with many of the interjections kept to a single word. Combined with a strong emphasis on backlighting through the show, this meant that he sometimes lost his audience. If Clark can improve in this aspect he will truly go onto become one of the great blues performers.
A highly enjoyable night of guitar work. Let’s hope the Bluesfest circuit will continue to deliver for Adelaide in similar fashion for years to come.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor
Photos by Kay Cann