"Tonight’s about three homies from South Austin saying, ‘We got this. Let’s do a show," rapper Phranchyze said from the stage midway through his set opening for Gary Clark Jr at a free pop up show at the Scoot Inn. It was around 8 p.m. and the lanky former battle rapper commanded the attention of the packed house.
Phranchyze and Clark have a personal history that stretches back to junior high. Zeale, who kicked off the show at 7 p.m. has been sharing stages with Phranchyze for well over a decade when the two used to tag team sets all over town. "We’ve all known each other forever. We’ve played together. We’ve all lived in houses together," Zeale said before the show.
Both of the rappers were in fine form at the Scoot Inn. Zeale put in a high energy set that covered much of the material from his new record "Frnz & Fngz" an ambitious release that mixes rap, rock and punk. Likewise, Phranchyze, who’s in the process of hammering out a new record at Arlyn Studios proved that he’s evolved an arresting stage presence. But the real highlights of the rapper’s sets were the freestyle sections. Zeale might just be the most talented freestyle rapper in Austin and when the two longtime partners in rhyme joined forces to trade verses while their bands traded grooves the result was electric. The crowd went wild cheering them along.
But as the stage was set for the main event, the energy ratcheted up a notch and by the time hometown hero Clark took the stage the crowd went wild. Gary Clark Jr is a consummate professional. He’s always a gracious and fully committed performer, but playing to a deliriously happy audience of hometown fans he seemed particularly loose and open. His performance was a gift, close to 90 minutes of pure magic on a perfectly beautiful night.
Understated as always he didn’t spend a lot of time on banter, humbly acknowledging the shouts that bubbled up from the crowd between songs — ‘We love you!’ ‘We’re so proud of you!’ — without much adieu.
Instead he spoke through his guitar, stretching songs with expansive solos that wound through unfathomable twists and turns. He churned out heart wrenching, deep bucket blues that seeped into the foundation of the historic East Austin club, bleeding integrity and heart into a corner of the city currently swept up in a struggle to save its own soul.
He laid down an unforgettable, epic ten minute rendition of "When My Train Comes In" complete with a three minute guitar solo blistered with distortion, wailing with agony and so powerful and consuming it wracked his lean body as it moved through him. Then, moments later he segued into a version of "Please Come Home" with velvety tones so plaintive and beautiful some in the audience were moved to tears.
It was a rare night in Austin where we collectively understood what we were experiencing was incredibly special. No one talked. The crowd pressed forward listening intently. They moved as the music moved them. By the time he took the set out with a climatic version of "Bright Lights" the mood in the club was downright rapturous. As he left the stage a raucous cheer erupted followed by a chant of "Gary,Gary!" But it was 10:05 p.m. and curfew was blown.
As it became clear that the show was over some of the crowd dissipated, but many more lingered, beaming broadly, chattering and sharing favorite moments. It’s easy to get cynical about Austin these days but then something like that happens. With his formidable talent and open heart Gary Clark Jr., one of our city’s most famous sons, reminded us that Live Music Capital of the World is more than just a slogan and we are blessed to be here.