Smooth licks and fuzzy riffs are not enough from Gary Clark, Jr.

Gary Clark, Jr. performed at the Cosmopolitan’s Boulevard Pool on August 8.
Photo: Teddy Fujimoto
Jason Harris

Three stars

Gary Clark, Jr. August 8, Boulevard Pool at Cosmopolitan.

Warning: Rant below.

Gary Clark, Jr. would be an excellent side man. His smooth guitar work, fuzzy riffs and elongated solos are the stuff jam band fanboys in Gov’t Mule t-shirts swoon over. But he’s not a side man. He’s the draw. It’s his name that’s selling tickets. And with that comes a different set of expectations.

If I sound more upset than I should be considering the Austin-based blues rocker’s immense talent, I have good reason. The Gary Clark, Jr. show is a microcosm of what I thought was a disturbing trend in music this past year. I’m beginning to worry that this development is not a trend, but now becoming the norm—adept musicians showcasing their virtuoso skills but having little to no interaction with the audience. This is what disappointed me about Gary Clark, Jr.’s performance at the Boulevard Pool Thursday night. Besides some few and far between How ya doin's and You feeling goods, there was nothing separating this show from a soundcheck. And while being at a Gary Clark, Jr. soundcheck would be thrilling, I was not there. I was at a concert. In this age of connectivity, relating to the audience should be more vital than ever.

Where are the showmen? The bandleaders? The frontmen? For me, it’s Bruce Springsteen and Prince. For others, it was James Brown, Otis Redding, Cab Calloway ... guys who made their performances unique, guys who didn’t just rely on their vast gifts, guys who made their audiences feel special. So while I enjoyed and was impressed by the pure musicianship on songs like “Don’t Owe You A Thang” and a cover of B.B. King’s “3 O’clock Blues,” I couldn’t help feeling I was merely enjoying some kick-ass background music to whatever else was going on at the Cosmopolitan.

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