Gary Clark Jr. fronted a fiery dual-guitar attack with his live version of “What About Us” on Wednesday’s Tonight Show. The songwriter cranked out distorted blues-rock riffs and leads while bandmate King Zapata anchored the song with his howling slide fills.
The quintet moved into a psychedelic vibe during the instrumental bridge with Zapata’s spacey guitar slides and Jon Deas’ squealing synthesizers. Clark ended the final chorus in a smooth falsetto.
“What About Us” highlights the guitarist’s recently issued third LP, This Land, which also includes the title track — the cut Clark described to Rolling Stone as “the most important song” he’s ever written. “It’s about being black in America, in the South,” he said. Clark also noted that he wanted the record to showcase his talents outside the blues, leading him to venture into reggae and soul.
“I wanted every note and lyric to mean something,” he told RS of the material. “With the records I’ve made before, there’s so much emphasis on guitar: We’ll just play a badass guitar solo, and no one cares about the lyrics. That’s not what I got into it for. I like Quincy Jones. I like Stevie Wonder. I like Ray Charles. I like Cab Calloway’s arrangements. I like bridges, pre-choruses. That’s something I never really paid attention to.”