Concert review: Guy Clark masters the Old Rock House, Wednesday, February 29
The appellation “legend” tends to be more of a marketing term than a description of an artist’s importance. Often, it serves only to mark someone who’s been lucky enough to get old without succumbing to too many vices and pitfalls along the way, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the scope of their contribution to their art form.
No one, however, deserves the title of “legend” more than Guy Clark, a progenitor of multiple splinter factions of Americana music and a songwriter without peer, and last night at the Old Rock House, he proved this in spades to the sold-out crowd.
Accompanied by longtime collaborator Verlon Thompson, Clark hobbled onto the stage while John Lennon’s “Imagine” played over the PA. He leaned heavily on a cane — the result of being recently, as he put it, “laid up with bad legs” — sank slowly into his seat and gingerly took his guitar from its stand.
“We’ve come here to sing you some songs,” Clark said. “Some of which we know.”
The duo had no set list. Instead, the selection of songs were decided upon on the spot with a little bit of discussion and the help of a few audience requests.
The evening started with “Cape,” possibly the finest ode to the importance of keeping your inner-child alive into adulthood ever penned, then moved on to fan favorites “L.A. Freeway” and “Homegrown Tomatoes.” But the set wasn’t just a rote run through of greatest hits. Clark announced early on that he’d be trying out some new material, and these new gems, like “My Favorite Picture of You” — another musical tribute to one of Clark’s frequent inspirations, his wife Susanna — and “I’ll Show Me” were proof positive that while Clark may physically be a bit worse for wear, his skill at laying the heart of the matter bare and distilling the truth from it hasn’t been blunted a bit.
What transpired at Hickory and 7th last night wasn’t so much a “show” as a version of one of Clark’s famous kitchen-table guitar pulls. There were flubbed lyrics, missed cues and more than a few sour notes.
“Y’all should get your money back,” Clark said, chuckling, after one misstep.
At one point a call came from the audience for “Cold Dog Soup,” and Clark admitted “That one’s kinda gotten away from me.”
Despite the packed house, it was one of the most intimate performances I’ve experienced in a good long while, like eavesdropping on a couple of old friends sitting on the porch of an evening, swapping songs and stories. Clark’s voice waxed and waned from clear and nuanced to ragged and back as the evening progressed, and the gravel had to be smoothed out by occasional sips of Courvoisier. But the rough edges of his performance beautifully framed the tales he salted in of his storied career and served to accentuate the ultimate truth in his lyrics.
A little more than half-way though the set, Clark sat back and let Thompson take a solo turn through a quartet of songs — “Oklahomagain,” “Joe Walker’s Mare,” “Indian Head Penny” and “Darwettia’s Mandolin” — all of which showcased his fiery, inspired guitar picking and clear, soaring voice.
The evening was wrapped up with three of Clark’s most well-loved compositions: “Randall Knife,” “Out in the Parking Lot” and the superlative “Dublin Blues.”
After the houselights went up, Clark was helped off the stage and escorted onto the patio, where the faithful gathered round him for pictures and autographs and the chance to move in his orbit for a moment. I took my hat off before I started snapping my souvenir pics, out of respect. I was in the presence of a legend, after all.