At Hollywood Bowl, Gary Clark Jr Lets His Six String Do The Talking (SHOW REVIEW)

Just a week after his brilliant appearance at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival in Dallas, Texas, Gary Clark Jr. played his six-string out for adoring fans on September 29, 2019, at the historic Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles. Clark has become one of the few remaining torchbearers of classic Blues music, but he also explores several other musical styles. He reminded the audience that he brings Austin, Texas (his hometown), with him wherever he goes and the thousands of people in the Bowl ate up all the Austin musical gumbo he was cooking.

Benjamin Booker was a last-minute replacement as the opener. Michael Kiwanuka, the vintage soul, folk and blues-influenced Brit, came down with a sudden case of tonsillitis just hours before showtime. Booker stepped in and had the daunting task of impressing a Bowl crowd who did not expect him or know his music. His mellow, sandpaper tinged vocal approach and serene guitar chords were in stark contrast to what was to follow with Clark. Booker played a few songs with accompaniment on drums and bass. The relaxed, short set allowed the audience to get settled in before Clark set off some fireworks.

Clark and his band played a long set of explosive songs that featured his biting guitar skills and vocal range. While the sound was excellent, the visuals were disappointing. The band came out in near darkness and the entire show was very poorly lit. Clark never removed his trademark Nick Fouquet wide-brimmed hat, which, combined with the lack of a spotlight, obscured his face all night. The lighting effects varied between silhouettes, strobes and shadows, making it extremely difficult to see the musicians. 

Clark opened with an intense guitar intro that transitioned into “Bright Lights” from his 2011 EP with the same name. The song also appeared on his 2012 Warner Brothers label debut album Black and Blu that garnered his first Grammy nomination. “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round” featured more guitar pyrotechnics from Clark and fellow guitarist King Zapata. “Feed the Babies,” one of the new tracks from his 2019 album This Land, demonstrated Clark’s vocal range. While the previous songs delved into the deeper octaves, the new song showcases his velvety falsetto.

“Got to Get Up” is an up-tempo, foot-tapping track from the new album with Clark’s fuzzy, wailing guitar riffs dominating. The reggae-inspired “Feelin’ Like a Million” is another new song that followed. Clark used his Gibson Flying V guitar for heavy distortion and high sustain on “You Saved Me” before slowing things down. Clark and keyboardist Jon Deas were the only ones on stage for “Things Are Changin’” and “Church.” Clark demonstrated his fret-tapping technique and excellent harmonica playing on these softer songs.

Clark sounded like he was channeling Curtis Mayfield and Marvin Gaye as the rest of the band returned for “Cold Blooded.” “When I’m Gone” could easily have been a hit out of Motown in the 1960s. The highlight of the show came next. Clark started a slow-burning intro with his Gibson SG that eventually segued into “When My Train Comes In” from Black and Blu. The song had everything – a hypnotic hook, powerful vocals, a haunting organ undertone and a magical, expansive solo from Clark.

Later, people were slow dancing in the aisles as Clark crooned the pretty ballad “Our Love,” from his 2015 album The Story of Sonny Boy Slim. The set closed out with a quartet of songs from This Land. “Low Down Rolling Stone” featured a distorted, nasty solo by Zapata while “Gotta Get into Something” sounded like it could have been a song by the Ramones with its fast, cool groove. Clark ended the set with “Pearl Cadillac.” Here, he is clearly paying homage to Prince with a sultry, methodical melody, scorching guitar and the other band members’ harmonies supporting Clark’s falsetto.

After a heartfelt thank you to the audience, his bandmates and his entire team, Clark left the stage to a standing ovation and thunderous cheers. The band came back out for an encore by playing another new track, “The Guitar Man.” At the end of the song, Clark said he is running out of time and trying to figure out what to do. Those in the know were not surprised when he ended the show with the Beatles’ “Come Together,” a song he recorded for The Justice League movie soundtrack that became a big hit and has been his closer for a while. The crowd sang along and cheered heartily as the final notes sounded.

Gary Clark Jr. is a bright light of hope for the music industry. He is a super-talented triple threat as a singer, guitarist and songwriter. He honors his Blues heroes, including the three Kings (Albert, Freddie and B. B.), while updating their sound with expressive adventures into soul, rock and other genres. Like some of the legendary bluesmen before him, he may or may not have made a deal with the devil. Wherever his unique ability comes from, now that he has conquered the Hollywood Bowl, there is no place too big or famous for him to win over.

Live photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2019.

Gary Clark Jr. Setlist Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA, USA 2019

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