About the only negative critique that can be lobbed at Saturday’s sold-out Gary Clark Jr. concert at Surly Festival Field is that it wasn’t a whole lot different from his other Twin Cities performances of the past five years. But that could also be seen as one of the many, many positives.
With 5,750 fans happily congregating outside the Surly brewery in Minneapolis, Saturday’s concert really became a no-complaints zone. The weather was picture-perfect, a reminder that outdoor concerts in Minnesota can and should be booked well past Labor Day.
And after its fourth and busiest summer yet, Surly Festival Field — really just a parking lot and otherwise nondescript grassy field — has become a familiar and highly functional, albeit still makeshift, venue.
Promoters First Avenue and Jam Productions were able to accommodate twice as many fans as Clark’s shows last year at the Palace Theatre without any hiccups or long lines for anything (including light-rail trains, food trucks, port-a-potties and, of course, beer).
Most perfect of all was Clark himself. The 34-year-old Texas blues rocker hasn’t changed up his setup a whole lot since his local debut at First Ave in 2013, but he has consistently ramped up and fine-tuned it without becoming rote or robotic.
If anything, Clark’s guitar solos — the top selling point but far from the be-all, end-all of his sets — sounded more soulful and spirited than ever.
He seemed all the more freed up and expressive as he let the guitar licks fly during some of the night’s most heavily trodden songs, including his show-opening take on the old standard “Catfish Blues” and his pre-encore finale, “Bright Lights.”
The most electrifying six-string antics of the night came in “Don’t Owe You a Thang,” during which Clark’s long-cemented rhythm section of drummer Johnny Radelat and bassist Johnny Bradley hit a groove deep enough to anchor even the most meandering guitar player.
Saturday’s two-hour performance did offer a few fresh twists. Clark dropped two new tunes into the middle of the set, a slow-swaying, swamp-poppy gem, “When I’m Gone,” and a hazy rocker ostensibly called “Roll The Rolling Stone.” The latter tune also spotlighted some mighty organ work by a new keyboardist who proved a fine addition to Clark’s band (so new, his name remains elusive).
The encore offered a three-part summation of Clark’s sound, starting with the smooth and cool, falsetto-fueled love song “Things Are Changin’ ” and continuing with the most bluesy and low-down number of the night, a thrilling cover of Albert King’s “Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong.” Clark played the latter tune on a King-style Gibson Flying V guitar that sounded as thick as Surly’s Darkness brew.
Last and fieriest of all, the show ended with his new remake of the Beatles’ “Come Together,” which he converted into an Iron Man-heavy rocker for last year’s “Justice League” movie soundtrack and played with even more metallic grit Saturday.
“The Twin Cities has always been good to me,” Clark said while thanking the crowd near show’s end. Clearly, the feeling was mutual.