As much as anything else, the moral philosophy behind a social contract sets civilized mankind apart from the Darwinian cage match of the animal kingdom. Adherence to an assortment of unwritten, though widely respected, rules simply make life easier to navigate for all who observe them.
The live concert setting, it all too often seems, is a realm where black-and-white clarity melts into a grey abyss. Such uncertainty was on display Saturday night in Irving, as native Texan Gary Clark Jr. performed electrified guitar acrobatics inside the Pavilion at Toyota Music Factory before almost 4,000 attendees.
Opening with a soulfully swampy, meandering "Catfish Blues," Clark wasn't worried about employing big, energetic beats in order to get the crowd's blood pumping. What the song lacked in superficial energy it made up for with an oozing sensuality and stage-setting usefulness. The 34-year-old, Austin-raised prodigy used that opening number, an 80-year-old Robert Petway song, along with the following song, 2012's rambunctious butt-shaker "Ain't Messin' 'Round" to establish the sonic contract for the night.
Old and new blended with the slow and fast with plenty of smooth and crunchy mixed in. And early on one thing was abundantly clear: the audience didn't know what to do about it.
For the most part, concerts easily fall into one of two categories: either they're stand-up shows or sit-down shows. A number of elements direct a concert into one of the two realms, but on occasion, the determining factors, such as age of the crowd, style of music, and type of venue simply don't allow for easy delineation. A few small patches of fans could be seen standing around the venue at different points of the night, hinting at some confusion.
The fourth song of the night, the gloriously epic, eight-minute "When My Train Pulls In," was one example of how the crowd's behavioral disorientation juxtaposed with Clark's musical mastery. The sections closest to the stage showed some up-and-downers, while the vast majority of each section remained seated. However, some who stood no matter the song or tempo were either oblivious to, or unconcerned with, what the folks behind them were doing.
This is noteworthy because during the moments of this particular song when the bluesy guitar noodling dwindled to a softer level, people all around griped audibly about how "everyone should just stand up," as well as others discussing how they wish "those idiots up there would sit the hell down."
Rock shows are loud and fast and fun. Sitting down to politely watch Clark shred while offering the occasional golf clap is a heretical thought to many, including this reviewer. But Clark's show was also a blues show, and there's no denying that the average blues audience age skews closer to AARP membership than it does Fortnite Battle Royale champion status.
If you were stuck behind an occasional stander, let alone a constant stander, a pogo stick would've been a more helpful purchase than one of the $15 beers or concert T-shirts from the merch table. In some ways, this conundrum is worse than dealing with chatty types or phone photographers because a person is physically blocking the view of the show. If you're stuck behind someone who stands, your choice is to either stand in order to see the stage and block those behind you, or to stare at the video screens located on either side of the stage instead of, you know, the stage itself. Not cool.
Some of that hardship was aided by the fact that Clark's nimble, artistic jamming was often best enjoyed by closing your eyes and surrendering to the groove. Adding to that serenity was Clark's vocal falsetto, maybe the most underrated R&B weapon in his arsenal. Offering the tender, smoky "Our Love," complete with the show's most sensual extended guitar jam, and "When I'm Gone," a new bright, bouncy Motown-esque tune set to be included on his upcoming 2019 record, Clark expertly drifted beyond contemporary blues norms into an vibe where Prince- and Otis Redding-styled sounds could be detected with ease.
Another unreleased song, the punk-inspired "Gotta Get Into Something," could've been lifted from a Ramones record, thanks to the frenetic joy it featured. He closed the regular set with his rocking, almost metal take on the Beatles classic "Come Together," a tune he recorded for the blockbuster Justice League movie, which stands as his biggest hit. Such stylistic ambidexterity is major part of the beauty Clark has long produced, going back to his teenage days being schooled by blues legend Jimmie Vaughan.
Closing out his two-song encore, Clark ended the night with a scorching, sweaty "Bright Lights." Repeating the song's signature lyric, "you're gonna know my name by the end of the night," he was certainly stating the obvious for all in attendance.
His name is adored, and his talents are beloved, even if his followers can't figure out whether to sit or stand for any of it.