Gary Clark, Jr. is a soul man. He’s a blues man. He’s a rock and roll man. Gary Clark Jr. is the real deal. When I happened upon his set, waiting to see the much-hyped Theophilus London at the Habana Bar Backyard, Clark Jr. was mid-wild jam with an electric three piece backing band that fleshed out the astonishing guitar skills of the 27 year-old Austin native. Song after song, the guitar aficionado delivered finger-numbing guitar solos as the band built walls of sound around him, with Clark Jr. intermittently slowing things down to sing the blues. The highlight of the set was a Marvin-style love ballad, Clark Jr. crooning in his sugar soul voice, “Please come home, it’s been too long.” When applied with true yearning and velvety finesse, his simplistic lyrics strike with a bold, honest weight. This is what Fat Possum was thinking about when they signed The Black Keys – dirty, guitar-driven, heartache-ridden blues.
When Brooklyn native Theophilis London took the stage, the mood shifted from soulful to downright silly. His wiry frame bounced around the stage like a lighting rod. Sliding and kick-stepping, he was a one-man dance show, more Prince than Puffy — the indie James Brown in his tight black jeans. Easy E in a sequined cowboy shirt. On stage with was a DJ, and a guitarist, who was asked to pluck out the guitar riff from “One More Chance,” for our pleasure. Pulling influence from 90’s rock and rap, London may not be breaking any new ground musically, but he is an infectious entertainer. Chimes, which are actually used in his breakout dance-hop hit, “Flying Overseas” are made into a hilarious prop onstage when strummed with a complementary head bang. Later, during “Girls Girls $,” London’s wing men threw piles of fake bills (Theopholy Money?) into the crowd, following with the promised branded shirts and tote bags. The man is an unabashed crowd-pleaser. In a festival stuffed to the brim with acts all watching themselves carefully not to appear to earnest, it was a welcome change.