Gary Thomas comes across as a stereotypical Fine Arts Student: lanky build, shaggy hair, no shoes. Then you hear him speak and recognise that here is a professional performer, a collected individual who is going places; the National Arts Festival for one.
His Live! performance at the Alexander Upstairs in the Alexander Bar & Cafe is a warmup for a nine show run at the annual Festival in Grahamstown, the longest run any musician has ever been granted for the event. But he has certainly earned it. At Alexander Upstairs there was nothing to distract the attention from the performer; a barren stage, no moving lights, just Gary Thomas and his guitars.
Thomas’ style can only be called unique. With more than four albums’ worth of material to draw from, he switches between songs depending on his mood, yet the set still combines into a glorious fusion of music. There is no genre box in which to pigeonhole him; one song may be Folk, the next Soft Rock but all of it is Gary Thomas. His classical training surfaces, then he dips into Spanish style before throwing in a little jazz guitar and so on, with sound explorations going as far as using his guitar as a drum kit. If you have seen August Rush, then you know what I am talking about.
His influences are numerous, both recognisable and unknown. His voice is reminiscent of Billy Corgan from The Smashing Pumpkins or maybe Willie Nelson or an older Johnny Cash. Interspersed throughout is Thomas’ laid back banter. He will remark on how this is the first public performance of a song, or how he managed to forget how to play a particular song for 7 years before finally remembering. The audience is the quintessential ‘friends at a garage’ show: close and relaxed.
Even the inevitable hiccup with the sound did not throw him off. He finished the song (with no loss in quality), fixed the problem and told the audience an anecdote at the same time. All in all, this is a musician who would be able to play with ease and aplomb at any festival from Up the Creek to Glastonbury to Kirstenbosch Summer Concerts. A joy to listen to and a joy to watch, for anyone who loves music.
Gary Thomas performed at Alexaander Upstairs on 20 & 21 June 2014.