Gary Clark Jr. is in the midst of another incredible year. His third album, This Land, is both his most commercially successful and his most fully realized artistically. He’s an above-the-fold fixture on the summer festival circuit, headlining Afropunk in Brooklyn next month and prominently featured on the bills for both Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza. And he and his band have never sounded better.
That’s not something you have to take our word for. On Wednesday night, PBS’s Front and Center concert series aired an intimate set from Clark, where he tears through a number of the songs on This Land. The set starts with the Molotov cocktail of a title track before deviating, occasionally, to a standby like “When My Train Pulls In” from his 2012 debut. Backed by his formidable band, Clark shreds on a Gibson Flying V guitar with the kind of virtuosity that’s made him an enduring sensation.
The way Clark has evolved as an artist has been fascinating to watch, and his performance on Front and Center is an apt way to mark the course of that trajectory. He’s always been a breathtaking live performer, but in his early career, his prodigious talent as a guitar player sometimes outpaced his skill as a songwriter. (On his earlier recordings, he was often at his best when he would cover Jimi Hendrix or the Beatles, which helps explain why his recording of “Come Together” was his best-charting single.) This Land represented a marriage of musicianship and material that transformed Clark from “modern-day bluesman” to a powerhouse artist who could deliver on all fronts—and because he’s always excelled onstage, getting a chance to watch him play the strongest material of his career on Front and Center is a treat that you should give yourself as soon as you have a spare hour.