After releasing his second live album earlier this year, Gary Clark Jr. returned to Toronto last night (June 12) for his first of two sold out shows. Night one proved that the future of the blues is in capable hands, as Clark carried the genre's time-honoured tradition of relentless touring into the Danforth Music Hall.
Fellow Austin, TX-dwellers Black Pistol Fire opened the show, quickly winning over the crowd with their fiery blend of blues and garage rock. Originally from Toronto, the two-piece got things rolling with jump kicks, crowd visits and a surprise showing from a kilt-clad bagpiper.
Clark took the stage under a dim haze, opening with a sullen, smoky rendition of "Catfish Blues." Dressed in black with his trademark hat pulled over his eyes and his band in the shadows behind him, Clark's bright TV yellow Gibson SG provided a stark contrast on the dark stage during the opening tunes. He followed up the blues standard with fan-favourite "Nextdoor Neighbor Blues," which gave the Danforth their first taste of the swagger that Clark would flash throughout the two-hour set.
No matter which guitar Clark was handed throughout the night, each one was staggeringly loud. With an immense tone that bloomed from his vintage Vibro-King amps, the guitar soared above the rest of the band, putting Clark's lightning-quick fretwork at the forefront of the set.
Throughout the night, Clark transitioned seamlessly between falsetto ballads and face-melting blues jams. Even with the immense volume, he controlled his dynamics impressively, leaving space for his vocals to cut through the wall of sound, and playing with call-and-response on tunes like "Grinder." At times, Clark broke into wah-laden funk shuffles that would sound at home on the latest Childish Gambino record (which he appeared on), but it worked, as everything seemed to, during the Texan's 15-song setlist.
Clark commanded the Danforth stage with serious style, grooving and strutting with the braggadocios attitude of predecessors like Buddy Guy, and launching into explosive lead lines at will. The hit single from Clark's 2012 debut album, "Bright Lights" garnered one of the most raucous sing-alongs of the evening, coupled with a ripping fuzz pushed his amps to the brink, crooner ballad "Our Love" provided a much-needed break from the pummelling distortion, and never has a blues shuffle about getting locked up sounded more danceable than on "Travis County."
Clark closed the set with an emotional performance of his blues-gospel piece "The Healing," complete with a fittingly mighty grimace as he shook each note with soulful intensity, then returned for a rousing encore that ended with a snarling rip through his 2012 track "Numb" and his latest jam, "Shake," which closes his most recent studio album.
Clark didn't spend much time addressing the Danforth's overflowing blues congregation, instead choosing to let his monster guitar playing do the talking. If the massive ovation Clark and his guitar received from Toronto fans are any indication, the blues are alive and well.