By Charles R. Cross
It was no surprise that Gary Clark Jr. played a Jimi Hendrix song during his concert Saturday night at Seattle’s Neptune: Clark plays “Third Stone From the Sun” every night, segueing it into his own “If You Love Me Like You Say.” Furthermore, virtually every young guitar whiz that comes through town throws a Hendrix track into their repertoire.
But Clark stripped the song to its blues roots. As a result, “Third Stone” didn’t sound like a Hendrix cover, but instead just one more train stop on the long storied route coming up from the Delta.
Clark pulled a similar feat with a cover of “Three O’ Clock Blues,” a Lowell Fulson song, best known as B.B. King’s first big hit. It fit so well into Clark’s set of originals, it seemed part of a whole, as his.
Clark is only 29, but he plays with the confidence of someone well his senior. He draws a larger crowd at each progressive Seattle show — he plays a second show Sunday night at the Neptune — and in-the-know music fans are always rewarded.
Clark sits in an odd place in the music business, a star on the rise, but not quite a chart-topper. He is name-checked often by superstars (Eric Clapton is a fan). This year he was on the bill at every single major summer music festival.
And though his excellent debut Warner Bros. album from last year showed elements of funk, and a strong R&B influence, Saturday he and his three-piece band stuck with traditional forms. In a 90-minute set, they played only a dozen songs, each of them stretched out, just as they might have been in an Alabama roadhouse decades ago.
Clark’s repertoire doesn’t have a hit single yet, but like Tacoma’s Robert Cray just before he broke with “Smoking Gun,” Clark has every element in place. His guitar playing Saturday, particularly on songs “You Saved Me” and “When My Train Pulls In,” was simply a joy to hear.
The music industry is much changed from the era when Cray broke because of MTV, but there is an upside in that good news travels fast in the Internet age, and a sensational talent like Clark doesn’t stay a secret long.
At the Neptune on Saturday, Clark’s “train” pulled in. At this stop, a marvelous night of blues was on the ticket.
Clark plays another show at 8 p.m. tonight, Oct. 6. at the Neptune Theatre, 1303 Northeast 45th Street, Seattle. $28 (877-784-4849 or stgpresents.org).
Charles R. Cross: email@example.com.