If you’ve ever heard Gary Clark Jr.’s music, you know that he’s a gifted singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist. His 2024 album, JPEG RAW, also highlights his ability to blend and transcend his blues origins and reach into new sonic territory. A Saturday night show at the Met Philly reached yet another plane, partly because Clark’s music allows for so much nuance and experimentation in a live setting, and partly because every musician on stage was talented enough to exploit those nuances in the best way possible. Clark and his band didn’t just play songs for the audience, they played with the songs.

The magic started as soon as Clark walked on stage. Like two magnets linking, he connected with his guitar and launched into his first song of the night, “Maktub,” which is appropriately the opening song on JPEG RAW. It began with a catchy guitar riff, and Clark quickly showed the crowd what they were in for with an extended guitar solo closing the song. “Maktub” was followed by “When My Train Pulls In,” from his first album, and earned wild cheers from the crowd – every good blues show needs a train song!

Gary Clark Jr. | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Clark’s band. With King Zapata on guitar, Elijah Ford on bass, Dayne Reliford on keys, J.J. Johnson on drums, and Gary’s sisters Shawn, Savannah, and Shanan as backup singers, it was an all-star lineup. You could tell when everyone was in the zone, and the music became spontaneous and effortless, each musician responding to the music live.

Clark led the band with peace and humility, stepping off the stage at times to direct the crowd’s full focus toward the band members’ craft, such as Reliford’s impressive keyboard solo and Zapata’s guitar wizardry.

Gary Clark Jr. | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

As for Clark himself, his playing seamlessly transitioned from jazzy fingerpicking and scales that danced with the crowd, to the rich and robust sound of his fuzz while King Zapata’s rhythm guitar orbited around with incredible energy and precision. Clark’s singing built on the DNA of his guitar playing, his velvety falsetto perfectly communicating the emotional nuances of the lyrics. He seemed reserved at times, perhaps even overwhelmed by the crowd that gathered to see him, but his cheeky personality shone through in dance moves and brief crowd interactions. Clark was a man of few words throughout the show, only taking moments to shout out Free Nationals, applaud his band, and declare, “Let’s have some fun!”

You may know the Free Nationals as Anderson .Paak’s backing band, but they have a robust musical catalog of their own, which primed the audience by getting everyone into a funky, jazzy mood. The band, which consists of José Ríos on lead guitar and vocals, Ron “T.Nava” Avant on keys and rhythm guitar, Kelsey Gonzales on bass, Callum Connor on drums and percussion, was joined by India Shawn on vocals. It was a collective effort, with both artists lifting each other up; Shawn left the stage at one point to allow Free Nationals to jam out, and the Free Nationals played Shawn’s song, “DON’T PLAY WITH MY HEART.” Their set was short and sweet, putting the crowd at ease with Shaw’s silky vocals and the Free National’s smooth playing.

Gary Clark Jr. | photo by John Vettese for WXPN

Gary Clark’s set consisted mainly of songs from JPEG RAW, and one of the highlights was the live version of “Habits,” which closes the album, and was played before the encore. It encapsulated the night, in perhaps one of the best examples of Clark’s genre-bending sound. The song started with a dreamy harmony of vocals, slowly building and culminating in a captivating and wailing guitar solo that reminded everyone of his remarkable ability to express emotions with his guitar.

Gary Clark Jr.
The Met Philly
  • Maktub
  • When My Train Pulls In
  • Hyperwave
  • This Is Who We Are
  • The Healing
  • To the End of the Earth
  • Alone Together
  • Feed The Babies
  • What About the Children
  • Triumph
  • Our Love
  • Bright Lights
  • Habits
  • You Saved Me
  • Funk Witch U