Gary Clark Jr. at the Santa Barbara Bowl

Paul Wellman

Gary Clark Jr. at the Santa Barbara Bowl

Gary Clark Jr. at the Santa Barbara Bowl

Gary Clark’s Bigger Blues

At Friday night’s Gary Clark Jr. show, the young gun out of Austin turned the Santa Barbara Bowl into the outdoor roadhouse of your dreams. Clark, who has mastered the alchemy of putting on a great stage show, never took a false step. “Bright Lights,” an unforgettable original that’s also an homage to the great Jimmy Reed, opened a propulsive set that built steadily to a satisfyingly wild close. Clark and the band then came back for a lengthy and dynamic set of encores that was almost a second show.

Gary Clark Jr. at the Santa Barbara Bowl
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Gary Clark Jr. at the Santa Barbara Bowl

Like Chuck Berry or Keith Richards, Clark conducts from the guitar in constant, dazzling conversation with his drummer, Johnny Radelat, and his bassist, Johnny Bradley. And even though there are four musicians onstage, including rhythm and slide virtuoso Eric “King” Zapata, the band comes across as more of a classic power trio like Band of Gypsys or Cream than a two-guitar, Southern-rock/blues quartet. This economy of expression pays off in impact. A Gary Clark Jr. audience feels each and every note in their bones.

Clark’s not crossing over; he’s just bringing a bigger blues to the 21st-century stage. As with Alabama Shakes, who played the Bowl last season, we’re hearing something that sounds contemporary in 2016 but that could have torn the roof off of either Fillmore in 1969. Music doesn’t progress; neither does it decline. The musicians of today aren’t better than those of 40 — or 400 — years ago, and they’re not worse. What matters is great music, music like Clark is making, music that plays tricks on time.

To submit a comment on this article, email or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email

Be succinct, constructive, and relevant to the story. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Discussion Guidelines. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus
event calendar sponsored by:

Latinos Are Being Pushed Out of Santa Barbara in Droves

New census data shows their population has shrunk by 24 percent since 2011.

Police Suspend Public Sleeping Laws

The non-enforcement comes in response to a new court ruling.

Priest’s Firing Raises Questions

What's the real reason Father Gavancho was terminated from Our Lady of Sorrows?

1/9 Repeat? ‘Nobody Knows!’

A UCSB geologist says predictions are purely guesswork.

Posting Bail for Santa Barbara County’s Undocumented ICE Detainees

How Anahi Mendoza and a Santa Barbara County organization help win bail for residents in ICE detention ...