×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Concert Review: Gary Clark Jr. Mixes Rock Intensity and Soul Grooves at Hollywood Bowl

Likely Grammy favorite Clark further established that his "heroism" isn't strictly limited to guitar theatrics — although, among an outdoor crowd of 18,000, those count for a lot.

Back in the early ‘70s, Eric Clapton and Marvin Gaye fulfilled very different functions in the rock and soul pantheon — a twain to be enjoyed, and never exactly to meet. It only took four and a half decades or so for Gary Clark Jr. to come along and be the guy who can be both. Headlining before a full house at the Hollywood Bowl Sunday night, Clark further established that he’s more of a full-service rocker than we might have expected when he first came on the scene as a blues-revivalist prodigy. Lenny Kravitz might have beat him there in trying to marry those distinct strains, but in Clark’s hands, you enjoy the urgency first and consider the retro alchemy secondarily, rather than the other way around. You wouldn’t have to be aware of his personal heroes to get caught up in the amphitheater-rousing prowess of this Fasthand Trouble Man.

The average person hasn’t heard the words “guitar” and “hero” put together in any kind of close proximity since Activision issued the final edition of the Guitar Hero game in 2015. Clark is pretty much alone in under-40 dudes who are in any danger of making it a household term again any time soon. The 35-year-old Texan did pace himself through the 125-minute, when it came to that particular valiancy. In the early parts of the show, yes, pretty much every number ended in a solo… but a solo only about the average length of the solos that popped up in every rock and even pop song back in the day when such things existed. The transition to a more epic level and length of fret-tensity came about two-thirds of the way to the finish line, as Clark devoted minutes upon minutes in “When My Train Comes In” to getting down with his bad Epiphone self — even allowing himself a few O-face expressions that matched the slackened jaws up the Hollywood hillside. Going on at such unabashed length makes “Train” (from his 2012 major-label debut, “Blak and Blu”) a very necessary outlier in a set that otherwise has Clark wanting to prove that he’s a songwriter, too, not just a ‘slinger.

That he did by inevitably steering much of the setlist toward his latest and best record, this year’s “This Land,” the album that more firmly establishes him as a soul hero as well as the other kind. Although on previous releases Clark has occasionally broken out his falsetto at the same time he was busting out some funk — as he reminded everyone here with a reprise of “Cold Blooded” — that’s a tactic he tends toward in bolder and better measure on “This Land,” where he’s as much about reviving prime 1970s Curtis Mayfield as he ever was about recreating the great British blues-rock scare of the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. The new song “Guitar Man,” which served as the first encore number, defies its title (which sets you up to expect a jam-band launchpad) to lean in to the more easy-listening side of old-school R&B. “Feed the Babies” was a bit heavier in rhythm but still light of vocal tone as Clark channeled Gayes’ dystopian-peacenik “What’s Goin’ On” era. Many songs followed about Clark’s own babies, and various mamas, as his songs trod the territory of how it stinks to always be on the road away from loved ones, and how a guitar man wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s a trope the Bowl audience benefited from: The family’s loss is Fender lovers’ gain.

Clark was generous in handing over the spotlight to others in his backing quartet: Ostensible rhythm guitarist King Zapata got a blazing solo in the opening “Bright Lights” before Clark did, and keyboard player Jon Deas got a churchy introduction and extensive organ solo toward the end of the evening to turn “Pearl Caddy” a little trippier. (Johnny Radelat rounded out the ensemble as this unit’s Buddy Miles.)

The socially conscious leanings of the songs that aren’t about being a road dog are part of what makes “This Land” a likely Grammy multi-nominee this year. Ironically, the most powerful number in that regard from the album, the title track, didn’t even get played at the Bowl, although that seemed to be by accident, and despite an extended setlist. Earlier in the evening, it was announced that the opening act, Michael Kiwanuka, had come down with tonsillitis and would be replaced by Benjamin Booker, who showed up on the spur of the moment with two players for a stripped-down set. The fact that Booker played a shorter time than had been planned for Kiwanuka allowed Clark to go on 15 minutes earlier than planned. But he might have gone a bit hog-wild in expanded his headlining setlist, because with Bowl curfew just a couple of minutes away and two songs still marked down to play, he was faced with the choice of playing “This Land” or his trademark cover of “Come Together” — a debate he acknowledged to the audience as he conferred with his ensemble.

In the end, on a weekend when the world was celebrating the 50th anniversary of “Abbey Road,” his course was kind of clear. He could have tooted his own horn with that incendiary original for the benefit of the Grammy voters in the audience, if no one else… but when it comes to that or commemorating the Beatles, the guitar hero still inclined toward some last-inning hero worship himself.

CREDIT: Gaston Jouany

Concert Review: Gary Clark Jr. Mixes Rock Intensity and Soul Grooves at Hollywood Bowl

More Music

  • Lady Antebellum and Halsey53rd Annual CMA

    Halsey Puts the Extra Lady in Lady Antebellum in Elegant CMA Awards Medley

    Halsey is increasingly proving herself a woman for all seasons in her varied TV appearances and awards show collaborations, and Wednesday’s CMA Awards telecast was no exception, as she ingratiated herself into the country vocal trio Lady Antebellum for some flawless four-part harmony on a medley of two of their respective hits. She and Lady [...]

  • Drummers Steve Gorman, left, and Dave

    Steve Gorman Calls The Black Crowes' Reunion ‘Sad’

    The Black Crowes made waves this week when they officially announced a lengthy reunion tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their debut album “Shake Your Money Maker.” The news was chiefly met with excitement and positive vibes, including glowing reviews of their first show in six years at the Bowery Ballroom in New York [...]

  • Lil Nas X53rd Annual CMA Awards,

    CMA Awards 2019: Full Winners List (Updating Live)

    The CMA Awards are taking place at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville Wednesday night, with Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire, and Dolly Parton hosting. The ceremony is airing live on ABC. Maren Morris leads the nominations with six total. Nominees and winners were selected by more than 7,400 industry professional members from the Country Music Association. [...]

  • Billie Eilish performs during Music MidTown

    Song Review: Billie Eilish’s ‘Everything I Wanted’ (Listen)

    Virtually everything about Billie Eilish’s career has been against the grain, unusual or at least unlike basically everyone else, and that’s also the case with “Everything I Wanted,” her first new song since July’s “Bad Guy” remix with Justin Bieber. Frankly, it couldn’t be much further from “Bad Guy”: Neither a menacing banger like that [...]

  • Paradigm's Liz Morentin portrait session in

    Paradigm's Executive VP of Communications Liz Morentin to Exit Agency

    Liz Morentin is stepping down from her role as executive vice president of communications at Paradigm, Variety has learned. According to an individual with knowledge of the situation, Morentin’s departure was amicable and she will stay on at the agency through the end of the year to help with the transition. No replacement has been named at [...]

  • Carrie UnderwoodThe Grand Ole Opry, Nashville,

    How to Watch the 2019 CMA Awards Online

    Carrie Underwood fans can catch her hosting the 53rd annual Country Music Association Awards Wednesday night. While her usual co-host Brad Paisley has bowed out of the gig this year, Underwood will continue her 12-year streak with Reba McEntire and Dolly Parton joining her. Together, the three will celebrate the biggest names in today’s country [...]

  • Kodak Black

    Kodak Black Sentenced to Three Years in Prison in Firearms Case

    Rapper Kodak Black was sentenced on Wednesday to more than three years in federal prison. Black was arrested during the Rolling Loud hip-hop festival in May for alleged state and federal firearm violations. He has now pleaded guilty to knowingly making false statements in order to unlawfully acquire firearms from a Miami-area gun shop. Black [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content