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'Hi mom': Gary Clark Jr. shines in 'Saturday Night Live' debut

Peter Blackstock
Gary Clark Jr. at Antone's on Monday, February 11, 2019, warming up for his February 16 performance on NBC's "Saturday Night Live." [NICK WAGNER/AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

Grammy-winning Austin guitarist and singer-songwriter Gary Clark Jr. made his debut on NBC's "Saturday Night Live" this weekend, performing "This Land" and "Pearl Cadillac" from his new album "This Land," due out Feb. 22 via Warner Bros. Records.

Introduced by actor Don Cheadle, the show's guest host this week, Clark somewhat surprisingly led with the song fewer people have heard yet, "Pearl Cadillac," saving the album's blazing title track for the end of the show. Sung in falsetto, "Pearl Cadillac" is a touching ode to Clark's parents, who still live in Austin: "You say I owe you nothing/ But if I could I'd give you the world."

As the song ended on the "SNL" broadcast, Clark was visibly seen mouthing the words "Hi Mom" as he glanced out into the studio audience. Here's the full video of the "Pearl Cadillac" performance, which is now posted on the program's YouTube channel:

"Pearl Cadillac" may have been chosen from the album's 16 songs partly because its midsection offers an ideal window for Clark to let loose on guitar. He chose a flying-V-styled instrument for the song, switching to a more standard-shaped Gibson model for "This Land."

Clark had already played "This Land" on TV, performing it on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" just after a video for the song was released about five weeks ago. It's clearly the most attention-getting song on the new album but a challenge to adapt on TV, as some of the harsh language that's essential to the song's emotional impact has to be avoided for broadcast. Clark knew the drill well enough from last month's run, and everything went smoothly; he flashed a peace sign at the end of the tune. Here's the video of the performance:

One more big TV moment is on the horizon for Clark: He'll return home to tape "Austin City Limits" at ACL Live on March 5 before embarking on a monthlong U.S. tour and then a handful of Australian dates. He plays the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on May 3, with festival dates in Atlanta and Memphis to follow.

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