Gary Clark Jr. starts slow, but mesmerizes at Greek Theater

Zoë Cramer/Staff

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On Sept. 28, Gary Clark Jr., a Grammy-winning musician based out of Austin, Texas, came to the Greek Theater in Berkeley to promote his 2019 album This Land. Clark is known for mixing classics, R&B and rap, infusing the blues with a contemporary edge. His album’s title, also the name of the first track on the album, explores what it was like to grow up as a Black man in the American South.

The concert was opened by an electrifying performance by Fantastic Negrito, who was a last minute fix when the scheduled opener fell ill. This, Clark had a lot to live up to.  Negrito’s hyper performance greatly contrasted Clark’s, who conveyed a sense of mystique and harkened back to “the man in black” persona Johnny Cash developed. Silhouetted by lights, with his hat appropriately tilted and guitar held just so, Clark created and embodied a cohesive and instantly recognizable image. This image was furthered by the blunt he came out puffing, which he periodically took a hit from throughout the set. His first two songs were a bit of a disappointment in that they weren’t as engaging as Negrito’s lively performance.

The crowd included people of all ages, but as one looked around, it was difficult not to notice how many audience members were clad in the slightly more drab and boring version of the famous Pharrell hat. Clark hit his stride by the fourth song, “I Walk Alone,” which put his guitar skills and musical and vocal ranges on full display, giving a more engaged performance. At one point during the concert, a woman in the audience proclaimed her and the Bay Area’s adoration for him, only for him to reply in a cool monotone, “I don’t care whether you love me or not.”

As the concert progressed, it became clear that the main draw of the show was in Clark’s guitar skills. What was lacking during his first couple of songs was remedied in the rest of his set: engaging with audience members  more and playing to their expectations, as well as dazzling them with his musical prowess. Clark changed guitars multiple times throughout his set, even taking out a Gibson Flying V for a few songs. One of the other highlights of the night was the keyboardist’s performance and solo during the concert, which spanned a couple of minutes and complemented Clark’s various guitar solos.

Clark ended the night with the planned encore, playing two songs: “The Guitar Man,” a song off of This Land, and his rendition of the Beatles’ “Come Together.”  He performed his song with more of a bluesy spin on it and let the audience belt out the lyrics instead of singing them by himself.  With his performance of “Come Together,” he allowed for the fame of the song to breathe, while managing to put his own spin on it. By the end of the show, Clark left audience members content and feeling as if they had seen something unique.

Highlights of the set:  “Feelin’ Like a Million,” “Low Down Rolling Stone, ” “Pearl Cadillac”

Zoë Cramer covers music. Contact her at [email protected].