Review: Gary Clark, Jr. at Belly Up Aspen
The ground literally shook in the final explosive moments of Gary Clark Jr.’s sold-out show at Belly Up Aspen in mid-September as he closed with his beloved version of “Come Together,” blasts of air going through the crowd from the thumping speakers with bass so deep and loud it left bodies quaking.
The fact that Clark has made this iconic Beatles song his own with his fiery live performances is remarkable enough. The fact that he can enthrall crowds with a straightforward guitar rock assault like this one would be enough to make him a must-see as his generation’s blues torchbearer. But as this two-hour set with his four-man band proved once again, Clark can do so much more than rock.
The Austin, Texas-based bluesman has made regular stops in Aspen since his local debut in 2014. He gets better, somehow, and his show more compelling with each visit — always adding new shades and colors to his explosive live performance.
There are a dwindling number of guitar-based bands that are consistently as interesting and surprising as Clark. He doesn’t rely on big hits to hook the crowd (this time around he didn’t even play “This Land,” the title song and breakout single from his new record). He doesn’t do self-indulgent guitar solos to show off his virtuosity (plenty of solos on this night, yes, but always varied and in service of his band and the song, including wild freak-out jams on “When My Train Pulls In” and “Low Down Rolling Stone”).
Clark opened with an aggressive and booming run through the straightforward rocker “Bright Lights,” the signature song from his breakout 2012 album “Blak and Blu.” In the mesmerizing two hours that followed he ranged across styles and moods before returning to the bread-and-butter rock on “Come Together.”
Clark can build simmering sonic tension better than just about any musician, in any genre, but he relies on that less these days. Previous shows here were filled with songs where he’d steadily ratchet up the noise until letting loose in an incendiary, improvisatory climax. This time around, you could never predict where he was going.
He proved a mastery of funk on “Got to Get Up” and of swampy fuzz rock on “What About Us,” he sang some soulful high notes in a Curtis Mayfield register on “Feed the Babies,” and then he dabbled in jangly surf rock for “When I’m Gone.” There was a trippy space rock interlude, with assistance from keyboardist and producer Jon Deas. And a surprising high point was the peppy punk-inflected “Gotta Get Into Something.”
By the time his three-song encore was over and he’d torched us all with “Come Together,” Clark — who started the night in a denim jacket and beanie and left it in a sweat-soaked T-shirt — proved he can do just about anything he wants. And he clearly relishes the increasingly rare chance for him to play a small room like Belly Up. As he put it: “I love coming up here and rocking with you.”
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