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Concert review: Gary Clark, Jr. at Red Butte Garden

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Well, damn.

That’s pretty much my instant reaction to seeing Gary Clark, Jr. for the first time, at his Sunday night show at Red Butte Garden.

You can definitely call me a skeptic when it comes to hearing about new blues “legends” coming along. I can’t think of another genre where every name you hear is a “legend” of some sort or another–one would think anyone who stepped on a Chicago or Memphis stage at some point in their musical life is an equal of Buddy Guy or B.B. King.

Gary Clark, Jr. arrives in my listening sphere with a couple years’ worth of critical buzz and the stamp of approval of the Austin, Texas, music scene, so all signs before the show were positive. And suffice to say, the man delivered in a big way, ripping through some amazing blues-rock Sunday night to an adoring crowd that was definitely into everything Clark and his three backing musicians were offering.

After a rousing opening set by Austin-based guitar-drums duo Black Pistol Fire (watch for those guys–they absolutely killed it in front of an unfamiliar crowd), Clark and his co-conspirators (rhythm guitarist King Zapata, drummer Johnny Radelet and bassist Johnny Bradley) ripped through an oft-sprawling 16-song set drawn primarily from Clark’s Blak and Blu album, in addition to some covers and other selections.

The slow and slinky “Catfish Blues,” an old blues number covered by Jimi Hendrix way back when, opened the show in a mellow groove before Clark opened things up with “Ain’t Messin’ Around.” That song was the first indication that fellow guitarist Zapata is nearly the equal of bandleader Clark, tearing into a tasty solo that was one of the night’s highlights.

“Next Door Neighbor Blues,” “Travis County” and “When My Train Pulls In” were all early highlights, with “Train” building to a raucous, cacophonous conclusion as Clark and his band expanded the song into a sprawling instrumental workout. “Please Come Home” led into the utterly Zeppelin-esque “Numb,” a song that started out with gargantuan riffs and stayed monster-sized throughout in terms of the think guitar riffs.

Clark’s “Don’t Owe You a Thing” led into a well-chosen cover of B.B. King’s “3 O’Clock Blues,” and “Things Are Changing” led into a bombastic mash-up of “Blak and Blu” and “Bright Lights” to close down the main set.

It’s pretty special to see an artist truly earn a standing ovation, and Clark and Co. goaded the crowd to its collective feet throughout Sunday’s show with a series of increasingly fine performances of his songs. By set’s end, the crowd was fully engaged and mostly standing, and Clark and his non-stop series of stunning guitars had totally convinced the crowd to agree to anywhere he wanted to go, musically.

For the encore, that place included excellent versions of “In The Evening (When the Sun Goes Down),” a cover of Albert King’s “Oh Pretty Woman” and the show-closing killer “You Saved Me.” It was a brilliant conclusion to a show by a guy deserving of all the accolades that have come his way.

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SLCene Suggests: Polyphonic Spree at In The Venue

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POLYPHONIC SPREE, IN THE VENUE, Friday, July 25, 6 p.m., $22

The first time I saw Polyphonic Spree, it was at the South by Southwest Music Conference in Texas in 2001, when the group decided to perform in some unusual places instead of the usual bars and clubs. There was a show at a vacant lot, and another on a traffic island in the middle of a busy street. The members wore choir robes as a uniform of sorts, and the choir vibe was no accident. Band founder Tim DeLaughter, formerly of  Tripping Daisy, started Polyphonic Spree to have a group capable of making the expansive sound he was hearing in his head when his old band broke up. And Polyphonic Spree, with up to two dozen members at times, he was able to do just that. Their live shows are incredible experience–it’s pretty much impossible to leave a Polyphonic Spree spree without a smile on your face. The excellent Sarah Jaffe opens the show.

 

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SLCene Suggests: 7 Seconds at Club Sound

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7 SECONDS, CLUB SOUND, Wednesday, July 23, 6 p.m., $15

When I mentioned to a friend the other day that old-school Reno punk outfit 7 Seconds was dropping by Salt Lake City on a new tour, he was genuinely shocked the quartet was still out there firing up pits in dive bars and clubs a full 34 years after they originally formed in 1980. The group led by brothers Kevin Seconds and Steve Youth recently released their first album since 2005, and Leave a Light On blends the bands hyperactive punk tendencies with the big poppy choruses that always marked the band’s tunes. In many ways, the new tunes fall musically somewhere between the 7 Seconds ’80s-era albums that made me and so many other punk youngsters into fans, Walk Together, Rock Together and Soulforce Revolution–that one actually charted on the Billboard 200. The new album is their 15th, and this is their first tour since 2006–might want to catch them while you can. The Copyrights open the show.

 

SLCene Suggests: Tedeschi Trucks Band at Red Butte Garden

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TEDESCHI TRUCKS BAND, RED BUTTE GARDEN, Tuesday, July 22, 7:30 p.m., $50

Back when the husband-and-wife duo of Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks first recorded an album together and did a tour, it seemed like a one-off project for the two, designed mainly to give them some time together. I’m not suggesting the music was an afterthought, just that both band leaders had plenty of work on their hands through Tedeschi’s successful solo career and Trucks’ membership in the Allman Brothers as well as leading his own Derek Trucks Band, and occasional tours with Eric Clapton as well. But three albums and several tours in, Tedeschi Trucks Band looks more and more like it could have legs for years to come. The 11-piece band always makes for a killer live show, and truly is a showcase for much more than just Tedeschi’s bluesy wail and her husband’s incredible guitar-playing. They headlined Red Rocks in Colorado this year, and were a main stage attraction at Bonneroo. People seem to be catching on to what Red Butte Garden has been bringing to Utah for years now–one of the best live bands in the business. This time around, the band had a new bass player in Tim Lefebvre. Opening the show is Rich Robinson, best known as guitarist in the Black Crowes, now leading his own band and releasing solid solo albums.

SLCene Suggests: Artful Afternoon at Utah Museum of Fine Arts

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ARTFUL AFTERNOON: ART AT 100, UTAH MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, Saturday, July 19, 1 p.m.-4 p.m., Free

The Utah Museum of Fine Arts is in the midst of a year-long celebration of its 100th year on the University of Utah campus, and the party extends to its regular Artful Afternoon programming. Artful Afternoons are a twice-yearly family-focused day-time party that lets old and young explore all the museum has to offer while getting their own hands dirty in creating some artwork themselves. The activities on Saturday will fill the galleries as well as the museum patio, gift shop and auditorium, and will include story time at 2 p.m. and 3 p.m., film screenings at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m., “highlights of the collection” tours every half-hour, as well as fingerprint art, chalk drawing and treasure hunts. Consider it a primo opportunity to introduce kids and friends to one of Salt Lake City’s cultural gems, while having a free and fun afternoon, too.

Concert review: Jurassic 5 at The Complex

(left to right) Chali 2Na, Zaakir, Marc 7 and Akil of Jurassic 5

(left to right) Chali 2Na, Zaakir, Marc 7 and Akil of Jurassic 5

Fans of L.A. hip-hop crew Jurassic 5 probably didn’t realize the group was celebrating their 20th anniversary on their current tour across the states. The fact the original sextet was reuniting for the first time since splitting in 2007 was the only reason needed to party for the group’s return.

Salt Lake City has always seemed to have an affinity for the group. During the original run of the band from the late ’90s into the mid-’00s, the collective made up of rappers Chali 2Na, Akil, Zaakir and Marc 7 and DJs Cut Chemist and Nu Mark played to progressively bigger audiences here in Zion, moving from Warped Tour daytime sets on small stages to clubs and then theaters like Kingsbury Hall.

The room they played at The Complex Tuesday night might be the biggest they’ve done yet in SLC, and they needed every inch of the space for the folks nearly filling the place for the Word of Mouth tour that also featured Dilated Peoples, Beat Junkies and MC Supernatural–a rerun of sort of a 2000 tour that also stopped in Utah.

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The energy of the fans Tuesday was undeniable, but the cavernous space didn’t do the sound any favors. A major appeal of Jurassic 5 is the vocal interplay between the four rappers, including some honest-to-God harmonizing rarely heard in their peers, but much of the vocal dexterity on display on stage was lost in the sound mix.

That was definitely a bummer, but the fans knew the words to old favorites like “After School Special,” “Quality Control” and “I Am Somebody,” and they chanted along in unison with the men on stage while they waved their arms and bobbed their heads to the beats dropped by Cut Chemist and Nu Mark.

As always, the two world-class turntablists were given ample opportunity to show off their skills in building some crazy sounds out of all manner of equipment. “Desk (Hip Hop History)” featured Nu Mark turning an old high school desk into a live instrument, pounding out beats on the wired metal-and-wood chair. Later, the two strapped turntables around their necks like they were guitars for a musical duel at center stage while the rappers took a break, before turning the seemingly decorative giant J5 record on stage into a massive working turntable useful for scratching.

Chali 2Na gave the Utah audience props for the enthusiasm, and it was a constant as Jurassic 5 ripped through a slew of songs, moving from one to the next quickly and rarely taking a breath between. “Concrete Schoolyard,” “High Fidelity,” “Freedom” and “The Influence” were all highlights, despite the booming sound often washing out the rappers’ lyrics.

It was a good time despite the audio issues, and hopefully the reunion is an ongoing project for the members of Jurassic 5. I, for one, would love the chance to see them again in a venue where the sound can match the skills on stage.

Concert review: The Hold Steady at The Urban Lounge

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Let’s start it with a positive jam.

Always a good idea, and even more so when one of your band’s most popular songs among old-school fans is, yes, “Positive Jam.”

The Hold Steady, being no dummies, launched their show on a Monday night in Salt Lake City–historically no easy sell, no matter the band–with a clarion call of “Positive Jam,” “Stuck Between  Stations” and “I Hope This Whole Thing Didn’t Frighten You,” a strong mix of old and new from the New York-based crew.

If you weren’t completely on board by the end of that three-song blast to start the show, then you probably were in the wrong place Monday night. The Hold Steady delivered a show at The Urban Lounge that was inspiring for modern-music cynics and a reminder of what killer, straightforward rock and roll is capable of in the right hands.

Frontman Craig Finn and his cohorts in The Hold Steady certainly qualify as “the right hands.” Consummate pros in rocking a crowd, The Hold Steady boys delved into all aspects of their decade-long existence over the course of about two dozen songs. The crowd, surprisingly not a sell-out, ate it up gladly, singing along throughout and waving their drinks in the air in time to the riffs of “You Can Make Him Like You,” “The Swish,” “Sequestered in Memphis” and “Rock and Roll Problems.”

Just look at this shot of the crowd around mid-show mid-show:

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That frenzied scene in front of the stage was pretty much the norm as Finn jerked around the space like the powerful music was giving him seizures. He had a smile on his face all night, and for good reason–the crowd on hand was feeding off his energy and giving it back ten-fold.

The band ripped through a stellar set of favorites, from new songs like “Spinners” and “The Ambassador” from their most recent album, Teeth Dreams, to older fare like “Chips Ahoy,” “Your Little Hoodrat Friend” and the appropriately epic “Massive Nights.”

Finn was in primo rock-evangelist form, exhorting the crowd to sing along and leading his charges through a genuinely thrilling set. He acknowledged the giant posse in the audience wearing home-made t-shirts decorated with Hold Steady lyrics, and delivered on all fronts as a band leader, singer and circus ringleader.

Stretching nearly two hours after their opening notes, the band tackled songs like “Southtown Girls,” “Stay Positive” and “Killer Parties” as they worked their way through a fiery encore as energetic as the main set.

Killer show from beginning to end, courtesy of a band seemingly incapable of putting in a boring night’s work.

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