Music Review

A galvanizing Gary Clark Jr. at Royale

Gary Clark Jr. (pictured earlier this year in New Orleans) mixed his own material with covers in his two-hour show at Royale Friday.
Gary Clark Jr. (pictured earlier this year in New Orleans) mixed his own material with covers in his two-hour show at Royale Friday.

On his recently released “Blak and Blu” album, Gary Clark Jr. put in enough modern R&B, hip-hop flourishes, and frenetic rock ’n’ roll to avoid getting cornered as a conventional blues artist, even though the blues forms the guitarist and singer’s base. Live, Clark doesn’t need such overt gestures to make his point.

In a galvanizing two-hour concert Friday at Royale (where two planned shows at the Sinclair were moved as the Cambridge venue undergoes renovations), Clark dived headlong into blues not only with his own material but also with covers of songs associated with Jimi Hendrix and a couple of Kings (B.B. and Albert).

Still, Clark made it all sound vital and of the present, similar to the way Adele roots her sound in classic soul and Clark’s opener, Kat Edmonson, steps off from jazz.


By the time Clark got to B.B. King’s “Three O’Clock Blues” deep into his show, he was practically daring someone to call him a retro act as he reshaped the round contours of Chicago blues into sharp, sinewy tones.

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Clark opened with “When My Train Pulls In,” a sprawling 10-minute psychedelic explosion of passion and confidence. While Clark gets the spotlight, his band mates Zapata! on guitar, Johnny Bradley on bass, and Johnny Radelat on drums ensured the songs turned molten.

Clark lit into the primal rock ’n’ roll of “Don’t Owe You a Thang” and showed off his R&B chops (and underrated vocal skills) with the old-school, falsetto-dappled “Please Come Home” and the sultry contemporary-sounding “Things Are Changin’,” which enjoyed a rugged makeover live compared with its recorded version.

In taking on the Hendrix staple “Catfish Blues,” Clark invited the inevitable comparisons to that guitar legend and came through it affirming his original voice, particularly in the way he conjured thick mats of fuzzed-out tone from which he cut melodic riffs.

Clark peaked on “Numb,” an original composition rendered as loud, dirty transformative thunder that made the night’s opening quake comparatively gentle.


Edmonson was as breezy as Clark was stormy, which made for an interesting start to the night. She blends delicate tone and charismatic charm into songs that float from whimsy to heartbreak to hope. Accompanied by cello and acoustic guitar, Edmonson struck jazz-pop gold on “Lucky” and “I Don’t Know.” On one new song, she dabbled in the blues, grinning her way through Clark’s turf.

Scott McLennan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @Scott