If the slats high up on the exterior wall of Macy’s at Fashion Island had any dust on them, Gary Clark Jr. and h is band shook it off with their electrifying, nine-song set Saturday night.
They opened in the intimate Lincoln Experience space with “Grinder,” a heavy blues rocker about a financially strapped young family. The song was among five in the set from Clark’s last studio album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, which reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Blues Albums a month after its September 2015 release.
Next came a show highlight, “Ain’t Messin ‘Round,” which was off Blak and Blu and nominated for a Grammy in 2014 for Best Rock Song. The winner in that category was “Cut Me Some Slack” by Paul McCartney, Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic and Pat Smear, although Clark did win a Grammy that year for Best Traditional R&B Performance (“Please Come Home”).
There was no horn section as there had been on the “Ain’t Messin ‘Round” recording, but the great interplay between Clark and drummer Johnny Radelat was preserved. Prince would have appreciated the musical blend of ‘60s soul, psychedelic chords and Clark’s sweet voice. Backing vocals here and throughout the show came from bass player Johnny Bradley.
The psychedelia turned into a two-headed beast on “When My Train Pulls In,” as Clark and the rhythm guitarist he has known since high school, Eric “King” Zapata, traded licks and solos. Quite striking in a black mohawk, Native American neckpiece and layered attire, Zapata won the internal battle of the band on this night.
The mood shifted for “Our Love” as Clark channeled his inner Marvin Gaye to achieve the falsetto this ‘70s-style ballad requires. “You are my lady / I am your man / Some call it crazy, baby / But they don’t understand.”
“Bright Lights,” Clark’s first hit and a homage to Jimmy Reed and his song of the same name, was the most recognizable tune of the night, with the fuzzy guitar noise and Radelat’s strong drumbeats bringing to mind The Black Keys.
Bookending “Numb” off Blak and Blu were two tunes from The Story of Sonny Boy Slim: “The Healing” and “Church.” Capping the show was another cut off that album, “Shake,” a dance-inducing little rock ’n’ roller that further shook any linger dust off that mall.
THE SET LIST:
Ain’t Messin ‘Round
When My Train Pulls In