Gary Clark Jr. has the voice of an R&B heartthrob, the guitar riffs of a rock god and a heart for the blues. He managed to tap into all of his aforementioned traits when he played his first theater scaled show for St. Louis audiences Monday night at The Fabulous Fox.
Fellow Austin, TX based blues duo Greyhounds got the night started with a crop of selections that meshed bluegrass, blues and rock.
He opened the show with a brief tribute to Johnny Guitar Watson with “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights” playing in the background as the band teed up. Clark kicked off his performance with his breakthrough hit “Bright Lights Big City” – the song that captured the attention of guitar hero Eric Clapton. His performance of the song at Clapton’s 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival in Chicago compelled Clapton and other music legends point to him as the torchbearer of the blues for his generation.
But his show illustrated that Clark’s reach stretches beyond the blues. His musical footprint reaches rock and dips into R&B. Technically the blues birthed all three, but the way Clark bends them together they become a totally new entity that can’t be defined by genre or placed neatly in a format for music listeners to catalog or consume.
Clark’s millennial blues is something to behold – mainly because of his musical dexterity. With the typical bluesman, one either has to settle for perfunctory vocals over a masterful guitar – or a stellar crooner who relies on his band for the instruments. Clark is a rare exception. As a singer, his R&B influences are apparent. The smooth vocals and hard hitting blues guitar and rock band accompaniment blend like salty, sweet and savory flavors.
Through his performance he makes his influences plain and clear. One can hear the Motown in “Ain’t Messin’ Around,” an upbeat track that has the orchestral up-tempo characteristics similar to Martha and the Vandellas’ “Dancin’ in the Street.” He then dove headfirst into rock and roll with “What About Us,” which has a Guns N Roses flavor.
He even dipped into reggae with his “Feeling Like A Million.”“Friday night and I just got paid, I’m out looking for some trouble,” Clark sings against the downbeat of a dancehall jam.
Each of the three major genres he weaves through had a selection that proves why he’s the best thing mainstream music has yet to embrace.
For the blues, his “When My Train Pulls In” will be a standard for the blues men and women to regard in the same manner as “The Thrill is Gone,” “Born Under A Bad Sign” and “Sweet Home Chicago.” As will “I Don’t Owe You A Thing,” which was one of his three encore selections.
For rock it’s “Grinder” and “ Bright Lights Big City.”
But the true genius of Gary Clark Jr. manifests when he slows things down and lets his R&B influences shine through, which he showcased later in his two-hour set with “Got My Eyes On You,” his “Pearl Cadillac” finale and “Things Are Changing” – which served as the opening selection of his encore.
The Greyhounds were invited back on stage for the rest of the encore that served as a mini-jam session.
“Can we play like we do it in Austin,” Clark as the audience who yelled to no end for an encore after he first left the stage.
They proceeded to get down to Clark’s “I Don’t Owe You a Thing,” and closed out with a masterful cover of the Beatles classic “Come Together.”