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Gary Clark Jr. brings on a bonfire of blues

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Gary Clark Jr. got his first guitar when he was 12 years old, and according to his parents he was playing in local Austin, Texas clubs a year later. 

Fast forward to 2010 and friend Doyle Bramhall tells him he might get a call from Eric Clapton to play at his Crossroads Festival. Sure enough, he gets a letter inviting to play at it. Soon he finds himself on stage at the Crossroads Festival looking out at 28,000 people. 

“I’ve never seen that many people in my life,” Clark said. “And all the sudden I’m standing in front of them and they’re looking at me like, what are you going to do? I hope you’re awesome.” 

Apparently, at 26 years old he was awesome.

Clark and his killer band killed it at Reno’s Grand Theatre in GSR Thursday night, Oct. 6. It looked like the theater was a bit over half full, which is terribly unfortunate for all those people I saw on social media proclaiming that they wished they could have been there. There was room, but those who were there were exuberant to say the least.

Gary Clark Jr. plays at Grand Sierra Resort’s Grand Theatre Oct. 6, 2022 in Reno, Nev. Image: Nick McCabe / This Is Reno

The show started off with a sort of spooky, atmospheric instrumental intro that rolled into the powerful and crunchy “Bright Lights,” which got the crowd going right away. Then came the high energy “Ain’t Messing ‘Round” followed by “What About Us.” This trio of in your face power songs were perfect for getting a room full of people involved from the start.

The show was great from beginning to end. Clark’s engagement with the audience between songs was modest, but pleasant for the most part. You could see that he was having a good time. 

The sound was clean and thumping, and the lights were fantastic. I find great lighting to be like the icing on a cake. Hopefully nobody in the room was prone to seizures from bright flashing lights, or they would have been in trouble.

Clark is often compared to the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and even Prince. I heard it all in this show. He’s a gifted guitarist with an effortless presentation. His parents said he was a natural from the start, and learned quickly. 

Being able to play well is one part of the equation. Having the skill to write great songs and the gift of being able to sing well rounds things out for Clark. He has an incredible vocal range. It would be easy to mistake his falsetto voice as a female backup singer.

Late in the show it appeared that Clark had had enough of an overzealous audience member near the front. There had been several shouts of song requests throughout the show, but I didn’t pay attention or notice where they were coming from. It may have been this individual on a few, plus things I couldn’t hear. 

Late in the show Gary Clark Jr. stopped playing and called out an overzealous audience member. At Grand Sierra Resort’s Grand Theatre Oct. 6, 2022 in Reno, Nev. Image: Nick McCabe / This Is Reno

Clark stopped what he was doing during “Numb” and addressed the individual, pointing at them and saying, “I’m talking to you. Yes you.” He told them they ought to settle down before security threw them out. Apparently it sunk in. Clark asked, “We good?” a few moments later  and went on with the show.

The whole band was great. Each player had their moments to shine. Bass player Elijah Ford even got a chance to sing one of his own original songs, “Our Kind,” which he did quite well. He has been touring since he was 17, and it showed. 

Clark’s website has bio information on each of his band members if you’re interested in reading about their accomplishments. It’s very impressive.

Every now and then a blues artist comes along that stands out as special, and Gary Clark Jr. is that guy – a legend in the making.

THE BAND

  • Gary Clark Jr. – Many Guitars / Lead Vocals
  • King Zapata – Rhythm Guitar / Vocals
  • Jon Deas – Keyboards / Vocals
  • Elijah Ford – Bass / Vocals
  • JJ Johnson – Drums

SET LIST

  • Bright Lights
  • Ain’t Messing ‘Round
  • What About Us
  • Next Door Neighbor Blues
  • Things Are Changin’
  • The Healing
  • Our Love
  • Feed The Babies
  • You Saved Me
  • Our Kind
  • Elijah Ford cover
  • Gotta Get Into Something
  • Numb
  • Blak and Blu
  • I Got My Eyes On You (Locked and Loaded)
  • When My Train Pulls in

Encore

  • Stay, with Abraham Alexander
  • Pearl Cadillac

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Nick McCabe
Nick McCabe
Nick McCabe is a Reno-based photojournalist and musician. He’s been shooting concerts in the Reno-Tahoe area since 2006 and writing articles and reviews since 2012, as well as doing interviews on occasion. His musical education and playing experience goes back to 1967. He is a founding member of the Reno Tahoe Forte’ Awards, and he still plays music locally for enjoyment. First concert: Jimi Hendrix. Last concert: we’ll see.

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