Gary Clark Jr. Brought Blues and Beyond to the Santa Barbara Bowl

Guitar Virtuoso Plays ‘Bright Lights’ Under the Stars

Credit: Charles Donelan

Gary Clark Jr. opened Sunday night’s show with a short instrumental before launching into “Bright Lights, Big City,” the Jimmy Reed classic that has been his signature tune since he burst on the scene in 2011. Beyond his extraordinary guitar prowess and his commanding voice in both natural and falsetto registers, it’s Clark’s sophisticated yet intuitive mastery of accelerating and decelerating tempos that gives his massive grooves their infectious staying power. The band, driven by JJ Johnson’s powerhouse drumming and featuring King Zapata’s guitar work, Jon Deas’s keyboards, and Elijah Ford’s titanic bass, builds a platform on which Clark relies for his magic. He escalates the music’s tension and excitement in carefully staged intervals until the whole thing combusts, bright lights and all. 

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