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Gary Clark Jr. Lights Up a Crisp Fall Evening at the Hollywood Bowl (Review)

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Gary Clark Jr. is the type of live performer who, after absolutely ripping through a vicious guitar solo spanning a few minutes in the middle of a song, leaves the stage and returns without the denim coat he’d been wearing, remarking to the crowd, “That damn jacket was cutting off the good notes!”

The Austin-based guitarist/musician did this during Sunday night’s show at the Hollywood Bowl, and it was hard not to laugh. Here’s a guy absolutely shredding the audience’s face off as he and his backing band tear through a blues/rock song, only to hear him effectively joke about how it could have sounded better.

Clark’s show, which capped off the Bowl’s summer season, was a revelation for anybody unfamiliar with his latest album, 2019’s This Land. In fact, when he opened the set asking if anybody had picked up this new record, he was met with just a smattering of acknowledgment from the gathered masses, which stretched up toward the back of the Bowl’s benched seating.

That was somewhat odd — seeing the seats nearly filled to capacity, you’d have assumed most in the crowd had heard the album — but perhaps they were too far into their bottles of wine and picnic baskets, an element of shows at the Bowl that ticketholders take full advantage of, to be paying full attention to between-song banter.

Playing most of This Land on the evening, Clark’s set also featured a few older songs, like set opener “Bright Lights” and a few selections from 2015’s The Story of Sonny Boy Slim.

But This Land, arguably Clark’s most cohesive studio album to date, was the star of the show, and rightly so. A dynamic, powerful record that showcases Clark’s various styles — he dabbles in soul, funk, r&b and hip-hop at times, peppering elements of each into blues-driven guitar rock — to maximum effect.

He’s a commanding presence on the stage, head hiding under a big black hat and his guitar squealing an otherworldly tone throughout each song. Clark and his backing band sound pristine live, as well, which elevates the material even further.

Due to time constraints put in place presumably by the fact that this was a Sunday evening show in an outdoor venue, Clark didn’t play This Land’s charged, pissed-off lead single, the resonant title track, opting instead to close the encore with his cover of the Beatles “Come Together,” which scored him a big chart success in 2017 on the Justice League soundtrack.

A special shout-out goes to Benjamin Booker, as well, who filled on at the very last minute, replacing Michael Kiwanuka (who was diagnosed with tonsillitis and was unable to fulfill his opening set on the night). Booker and his band graced the stage with an elegant set of intriguing, guitar and vocal-based music that was the perfect table-setter for what was to come later.

Gary Clark Jr.’s masterful show at the Hollywood Bowl was the look of a man absolutely in his element at the moment — and one who’s also fully deserving of even more attention than he receives on a daily basis.

Decades from now, it seems likely that Gary Clark Jr. will be considered a legend, because he certainly holds himself like one today.

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