Gary Clark Jr. - Hurricane Sandy Benefit at Brooklyn Bowl - 11/6/12
Better than: Paul Ryan's hair.
Disasters have a way of forgetting themselves. The attention span of the public is fickle; once the actual logistics of dealing with catastrophe replace splashy news coverage we often lose interest. See: Hurricane Katrina. Other news catches our attention, some of it legitimate in its own right. Like a presidential election. And it seems the more we outwardly profess to care about relief, the less we actually do.
So perhaps the best kind of disaster benefit concert is one where the performers do not postulate or sentimentalize. (You know that old writing adage show don't tell? The same goes for benefit concerts.) This was the case last night at the Brooklyn Bowl's Hurricane Sandy Relief Benefit, headlined by Gary Clark Jr. All of the night's proceeds went to the Superstorm Sandy Relief Fund, people donated goods to Occupy Sandy, and the low $20 minimum donation assured that the place was packed. But nobody, including Clark Jr., harped U2-ishly about causes; in fact I didn't hear him mention Sandy at all. Instead he simply played an inspired set to a backdrop of CNN talking heads debating the possibility of a Romney presidency. When he took the stage Florida was still too close to call.
Clark Jr. opened with a jam that showcased his fondness for the guitar solo. Last night nearly every song included at least one, usually more. Clark Jr. is unafraid of starting a solo slowly, playing a scarce amount of notes in a way that almost reminds you of a Miles Davis recording. But Clark Jr.'s style isn't sustained minimalism, he sort of lays on the ropes for a while like Muhammad Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle, and then gradually builds toward a rollicking crescendo. A similar technique is used by the very best stand-up comedians-- they buffer great jokes with periods of laughless-ness. Then suddenly you're being hit with punchline after punchline, unaware that the reason you're laughing so hard is that you've been waiting to laugh the entire time, anticipation multiplying the final effect. That's how Clark Jr.'s best improvisations operate: sensual slow-burns whose sparse beginnings elevate the climax.
After playing through a good part of his catalogue --- "When My Train Pulls In", "Please Come Home" , "Don't Owe You A Thang"--
Clark Jr. finished with "Black & Blu," the title track from his new album, and then went directly into his hit "Bright Lights." The crowd cheered for the New York anthem... then, during the middle of the song's guitar solo, Barack Obama's re-election was reported. A chaotic cheer spread along with the news through the crowd. Whoever was in charge of the lights threw a massive projection of the CNN on the wall. Clark Jr. smiled and said: "that's what's up."
After a short break during which nobody stopped cheering, some for Obama, some for Clark Jr., many for both, Clark Jr. came back for an encore. "What happened?" he joked, referring to the crowd's celebrations. After a couple more songs everyone danced out the door to the tune of "fuck what your mama say, Imma vote Obama way" ready to face the next four years, for now at least, in that state of elevation only live music can release.
Critical Bias: The last time I saw Clark Jr. was at Coachella, where inebriation leads to nostalgia over-kill.
Overheard in the Crowd: (Right after Obama's re-election) "Play the Star Spangled Banner."
Random Notebook Dump: It was the roadie's birthday; he was wearing a full-on Adidas track suit.
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