After growing up in a city known at the time as the mellow-cool capital of Texas, Gary Clark Jr. seemed eager to create an old-school Austin vibe Friday night in Plymouth.
The guitar-slinging blues-rocker headlined the first night of the Live at the Hilde bash at the Hilde Performance Center, a great use of the greatly under-used (at least for concerts) amphitheater in the west metro suburb.
Instead of putting on a sizzling, house-is-a-rocking performance á la his Austin forebear Stevie Ray Vaughan, Clark seemed to play more to the night's pristinely comfortable weather and the venue's cozy atmosphere. The 4,000 or so fans spread out comfortably in lawn chairs on the grass or in the cush VIP section were treated to a laid-back performance tinted with hints of soul and psychedelia.
Currently appearing on the big screen in Baz Lurhmann's "Elvis" as Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, Clark went big on falsetto and slower, sometimes funkier songs Friday.
He did, however, start out with the hard-strutting "Bright Lights," one of the gritty blues songs that earned him his breakout appearances at Eric Clapton's Crossroads Guitar Festivals starting in 2010 (key lyric: "You're gonna know my name"). That was followed by a couple rockier and rowdier crowd-pleasers, "Keep It Up Now" and "Travis County Line."
The 38-year-old headliner slowed down the grooves and turned on a more tender voice mid-set starting with "I Walk Alone," from his 2019 album "This Land." The romantic slow jam "Our Love" soon followed, making the elaborate Hilde stage's purple lights redundant with its grade-A Prince vibes.
Another one from the most recent LP, "Low Down Rolling Stone," became the night's most dramatic showpiece in the penultimate slot on the set list, crescendoing into a whirl of organ and fuzzed-out blues guitarwork. Clark's fans still got to see the guitar hero fly in the end.
More than a few fans may have inadvertently made it a dry night Friday at the Hilde. The logistical setup for the inaugural event was woefully under-supplied with only two single-line beer stands in the general-admission area and a crammed food truck area, each with frustratingly long waits. That was true of the ticket line to get in, too.
One of the great things about the Hilde is its ample space, though, so there's literally plenty of room for Live at Hilde to improve as an annual event.