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SXSW: Gary Clark Jr. Melts Mohawk

Jon Favreau’s SXSW Film ‘Chef’ flies in bluesman for afterparty
Kevin Curtin, 12:17pm, Sat. Mar. 8
photo by Kevin Curtin
Gary Clark Jr. at the Mohawk, Friday, March 7.

Following the world premiere of his new comedy Chef at SXSW Film, actor/director Jon Favreau announced via Twitter yesterday that Gary Clark Jr. would be his afterparty’s surprise musical guest, causing a line of hundreds to form outside of Mohawk Friday.

“Gary Clark Jr. was in the movie Chef and he said, ‘If you ever have an event, give us a call,’” Favreau announced to the packed, three-tier live music venue just after 10pm. “Well, unfortunately he’s on tour, but he had one day off between Minnesota and Chicago and he said, ‘If you fly us down, we’ll give you the best show you’ve ever seen.’”

With that, Favreau handed over the microphone to Clark and company, who launched into a two-hour set that took flight with his 2012 single “Ain’t Messin ‘Round,” and included a cover of Albert Collins’ “If You Love Me Like You Say.” The performance was largely unscripted, as Clark huddled up with drummer Johnny Radelat between songs to debate the next move.

The lanky, 30-year-old Austin native, looking like a fashion model’s boyfriend in loose-fitting biker boots and keffiyeh scarf, responded with shy graciousness to the constant shouts of, “Austin loves you Gary!” coming from the front of the audience. He demonstrated less modesty in his playing.

Clark’s reputation as a guitarist has become such that suck-up fans roar when he begins a solo. The real mark of his improvisational triumphs occurs when he ups the ante a minute into his lead and riles the crowd into a howling frenzy. That happened three times last night, during his coruscating solo on “When My Train Pulls In” and with the finger-picking of “Don’t Owe You A Thang.”

His most entertaining guitar work of the night came during cooing ballad “Please Come Home,” where he switched from slow soul to frantic tremolo on the fifth measure with such intensity that two dudes in backwards hats started fighting directly in front of the stage, prompting Clark to passively interject, “Everybody cool?”

After closing with an abridged version of “Blak and Blu” that exploded into “Bright Lights,” which hangs on the line, “You gonna know my name,” the audience chanted, “Gary, Gary, Gary!” That ushered in a hit-or-miss four-song encore that finished with the heavy R&B of “You Saved Me” and audience favorite “Numb.”

“Austin, Texas, I love you dearly,” Clark told the crowd before exiting. “I’ll see you when I see you.”

Outside the club, an epic line gathered to eat cubanos from El Jefe’s, the food cart featured in the movie Chef, reminding us that, although we just saw a headliner play for free, this event was brought about by SXSW Film. The music portion of SXSW is still four days away.

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