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‘Family, Y’all’: Gary Clark Jr., Marcus King Rock SPIN Show at Emo’s

In front of a packed hometown crowd, Clark performed every song from his upcoming album 'JPEG Raw'
Gary Clark Jr.
Gary Clark Jr. (Credit: Noah Schutz)

Hometown six-string hero Gary Clark Jr. delighted local fans last night (3/13) at Emo’s in Austin, Tx., by performing his upcoming album JPEG RAW in its entirety at a special hometown concert that SPIN produced and sponsored by Stand Together Music1 Million StrongKiTbetter and Click. Several of the tracks were played for the first time from the project, which is out on March 22 from Warner Records.

Backed by an eight-piece band featuring his three sisters as three backing vocalists, Clark clearly appreciated being back on stage in familiar territory. Acknowledging the unusual set list, he said it meant a lot to him for the crowd to be patient through so much new material they’d never heard before. He also saluted the musicians who helped bring JPEG RAW to life in the studio and at the show, proudly calling them “my family, y’all.”

JPEG RAW is a search for new sounds and ideas, incorporating influences and textures from West Africa to the Mississippi Delta, classic ‘70s soul to the forward-leaning beats Clark has been creating since 1999. Last night, highlights included the upbeat, groovy “Alone Together,” the deep, heavy jams of “Hearts in Retrograde,” the synth-dappled slow-burn “Hyperwave” and the epic closer “Habits,” a nine-minute-plus dose of emotional guitar theatrics.

Clark and company also dusted off a few oldies, such as “The Healing” from 2015’s The Story of Sonny Boy Slim and the Marvin Gaye-inspired “Feed the Babies” from his most recent album, 2019’s This Land. The artist will return to the road on May 8 in Fort Worth, Tx., in support of JPEG RAW.

And while many early fans saw Clark mainly as a next-generation champion of traditional blues, his impulse is undoubtedly to push his music further. “I’m a musician, and I’m an observer who takes and interprets, and if I’m only feeding myself the same thing I was feeding myself 15 years ago, then I don’t feel like I’m really living my life to its full potential,” he told SPIN in our February cover story. “I’m not just hanging around the blues clubs anymore. I’m thankful for that time in my life and all those influences. They’re always here, and they’ll pop up every now and then—like in [JPEG RAW song] ‘Don’t Start.’ You want some blues? That’s Blues 2.0.”

Marcus King
Marcus King (Credit: Niles Davis)

Clark was preceded on stage by surprise guest Marcus King, who played for the first time in a trio incarnation with only drummer Jack Ryan and keyboardist Mike Runyon. The artist’s upcoming Rick Rubin-produced album Mood Swings embraces a soulful style at times previously overshadowed by his jaw-dropping guitar virtuosity, but both styles co-existed beautifully during the set. The measured new tunes “F*ck My Life Up Again” and “Hero” best exemplified King’s newfound forthrightness, an outgrowth of Rubin urging him to utilize his mental health struggles as a sort of writing partner. Elsewhere, an arrangement of Soulive’s “Tuesday’s Night Squad” and a spin through Robert Johnson’s blues classic “Crossroads” demonstrated King’s remarkable interpretative gifts. Look for the artist on tour throughout the year around the world, including a host of support dates with country star Chris Stapleton.

Grace Bowers
Grace Bowers on guitar with Esther singing (Credit: Niles Davis)

The evening began with a set from 17-year-old guitar goddess Grace Bowers, who more than held her own on a lineup featuring two masters of the craft. Leading a drum-less band with a vocalist, keyboardist and bassist, the Bay Area native showcased the kind of fancy fretwork that has won her accolades from Margo Price, Tyler Childers, the Gaslight Anthem and Susan Tedeschi. Her debut EP of original music, recorded with John Osborne of the Brothers Osborne, is due this spring.