Backed by his masterful band, blues virtuoso Gary Clark Jr. gives a riveting performance for a sold-out Monday night crowd in Grand Rapids.
“Blues is just the best platform to build from for any kind of soul music. Certainly not the only one, but the one I come together with my friends over,” bassist Johnny Bradley said via text message after a sold-out show with Gary Clark Jr in Grand Rapids Monday night. “We are five men in different points on what I refer to as our man trajectory. Blues can be the reference point that we communicate from. The vibe is what we create when people come to see the show. I feel lucky to be part of the conversation.”
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That musical conversation proved to be a powerful, dynamic dialogue of groaning blues, searing rock ’n’ roll and riveting soul. Through an illuminated haze of fog, Gary Clark Jr. and his band appeared (and sounded) larger than life during their epic return performance at 20 Monroe Live. Clark’s band consisted of King Zapata (guitar), Johnny Radelat (drums), Jon Deas (keys), and Bradley (bass), who grew up in Battle Creek.
Wearing his signature wide-brimmed fedora, shades and a fire engine-red hollow-body guitar, Clark radiated unprecedented swagger. The set began with a handful of heavy hitters, including “Catfish Blues,” “Ain’t Messin ‘Round” and “Travis County.”
Deas, a new addition to the previous four-piece lineup, was joining the band for just his sixth show on keys.
“We’ve been four for so long. It’s great to hear new ears responding to Gary and supporting him,” said Bradley.
Near the middle of the set, the band performed a wild rendition of “When my Train Pulls In,” during which Clark ascended into a kind of musical trance, not so much as glancing at his fretboard during a roaring, euphoric solo. Other mid-set highlights included the galloping slow jam, “Our Love,” and “Cold Blooded,” a fiery groove that showcased Clark’s deft expression on guitar.
A FITTING FINALE
Nearing the end of the regular set, Clark launched into “Don’t Owe You a Thang,” a rambling blues number during which Zapata unleashed a solo of scorching, sustained notes.
Rolling into an instrumental break, the band eased the song’s dynamics down, leaving only Clark on guitar and a downbeat of unified claps from the audience.
Building anticipation and momentum, Clark furiously fingerpicked the song’s main riff with tasteful embellishments before the band broke in again to send it home.
A flawless interpretation of B.B King’s 3 O’ Clock Blues proved to be a timeless sentiment, and gave Deas a chance to showcase his own soulful chops. Fan favorite, “Bright Lights” saw Clark employ a psychedelic, phaser-drenched intro, before descending into a crushing composition. Fans energetically shouted along to the refrain while the band carried the song to a close
Returning for an encore alone, Clark shouldered his guitar and plucked a palm-muted riff while serenading the crowd with “Things Are Changin’,” a singularly memorable and tender moment of the night.
In a triumphant finale, Clark’s band returned to the stage for a room-rattling cover of The Beatles “Come Together,” a fitting mantra for the evening.
“I always have fun at Michigan shows,” Bradley said later. “I lived here as a kid and find music is a great way to reunite and bring people together.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Gary Clark Jr. Rocks 20 Monroe Live
Photos by Anthony Norkus
Copyright 2018, Spins on Music LLC