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Gary Clark Jr. reaches Radio City Music Hall

BY EVERYNIGHT CHARLEY CRESPO | At the age of 12, Gary Clark Jr. began playing guitar at small gigs in his native Austin, Texas. At age 40, the Grammy Award-winning vocalist/guitarist headlined Radio City Music Hall for the first time.

He told the audience at his June 11 show there that the first time he performed in New York City, he walked past Radio City Music Hall and fantasized about one day playing the iconic venue. He added that finally being on that was a dream come true.

For his dream-come-true night, Clark performed a two-hour, 16-song set. He band included guitarist Eric “King” Zapata, keyboardists Jon Deas and Dayne Reliford, bassist Elijah Ford, drummer JJ Johnson and his three sisters as backing vocalists, Shanan Colvin, Shawn Clark-Martinez and Savannah Clark.

Gary Clark Jr. shared the spotlight with bass player Brady Watt, above, and other guest musicians. (Photo by Everynight Charley Crespo)

The show highlighted his sixth and most recent album, “JPEG RAW,” which he released in March. The Free Nationals, best known as the backing band for Anderson .Paak, opened the concert.

Clark’s reputation as a blues guitarist was far too limiting throughout the concert. Although the program was blues-rooted, Clark’s repertoire cohesively blended elements of rock, blues and soul. His first song, “Maktub,” even introduced a taste of hip-hop rap. As Clark’s musical landscape continues to evolve, the new elements he incorporated into his musical arrangements sounded influenced by indie rock.

The songs typically began and ended emphasizing Clark’s smooth vocal style, while the mid-sections pivoted on his quick and gritty fretwork or the prowess of his musicians. Surprisingly, Clark did not do all the hefty lifting, as seen as early as the second song, “When My Train Pulls In,” on which Ford and Johnson’s rhythm section provided a solid foundation while Clark and Zapata alternated guitar leads. At times, Clark disappeared into the wings while his band jammed.

Gary Clark Jr.’s performance went beyond the blues, delving into other musical genres. (Photo by Everynight Charley Crespo)

Clark told the audience that, when he was young, he wanted to be Marvin Gaye. Throughout the evening, Clark’s soulful singing evoked many of his rhythm-and-blues predecessors. He sporadically sang in a Gaye-like falsetto, and even rested his guitar on a stand as he sang “Alone Together.”

Clark welcomed several guests on stage. Trumpeter Maurice “Mobetta” Brown of the Tedeschi Trucks Band, guitarist Jose Rios of the Free Nationals and bassist/producer Brady Watt joined Clark and his band at different points in the program. When the guests appeared on stage, they were offered an extended spotlight.

While all the music was good, Clark and his band’s laidback demeanor failed to truly ignite and set the room on fire. Even with a fair amount of the audience on its feet, the performance stayed at a steady simmer for most of the night. This was not bad, but the concert never exploded, as one might imagine it could with a hotshot guitarist.

Set list

1. Maktub
2. When My Train Pulls In
3. Hyperwave
4. This Is Who We Are
5. The Healing
6. Alone Together (with Maurice “Mobetta” Brown)
7. Feed the Babies
8. What About the Children
9. Triumph
10. Our Love
11. Bright Lights (with Jose Rios)
12. Habits


1. Funk Witch U (with Brady Watt)

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