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Following Dr. John's lead, Gary Clark Jr. tears it up for crowd

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Fiona Apple performs Wednesday at Stubbs, seven years after her last album, in a performance full of highs and lows.

Since the release of his first Warner Bros. EP last summer, blues-rock guitar hero Gary Clark Jr. has been seemingly everywhere, from the Austin City Limits Festival to the White House to "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," and it seems as if not an hour goes by without KUT playing either "Bright Lights" or "Don't Owe You a Thang." Thus, it was surprising to see the crowd disperse after Dr. John's preceding set on Wednesday night at La Zona Rosa, but right before Clark went on, the place was suddenly full again, this time with a crowd that seemed to be about 75 percent male.

Clark opened with an aggressive statement of purpose, his guitar growling and snarling and occasioning at least one display of the heavy-metal hand sign in the middle of the crowd.

Changing things up, Clark crooned in a falsetto on the ballad "Please Come Home," which had a few couples clutching and slow-dancing, but some of the guys grew restive until the pyrotechnics recommenced in the solo. Afterward, Clark said "That's enough of that — y'all feel like getting a little crazy? Me, too!" There was one more ballad later on, a lyrical, expressive version of B.B. King's "3 O'Clock Blues," but mostly it was hard-charging, high-octane shredding and a swaggering vocal approach to which Clark's strong baritone is well-suited.

At the end of the night, Clark began a sneaky, extended intro to "Bright Lights." Building tension, Clark prolonged a chiming, circular riff before finally stabbing out the chords everyone was waiting for. It seemed as though he could have kept ratcheting up the excitement for at least half an hour, if only he hadn't run smack into closing time.

- Parry Gettelman

Dr. John, his band deliver as promised

One of the Crescent City's most venerable icons, Dr. John opened his set on Wednesday at La Zona Rosa with "Right Place, Wrong Time," a classic guaranteed to get a good response. The quite diverse crowd, with a surprising number of 20-somethings, reacted almost as enthusiastically to a number of new songs from "Locked Down," an album that's not due out until April.

Even if a song is unfamiliar, it's pretty hard to resist the good doctor's idiosyncratic vocals, at once conversational and mysterious, or his command of the keyboard, in this case, a Hammond organ. And, as usual, he had a supremely funky yet swinging band..

- P.G.

Fiona Apple's voice floats along Stubb's

Cue the dramatic music: Fiona Apple returned to the spotlight, seven years after her last album, at Stubb's on Wednesday. A line formed down the block and up Ninth Street by 7:45 p.m. to see the singer-songwriter, who made her name in the mid-90s with the hit song "Criminal." She took the stage about 15 minutes late and gave a performance filled with some high and not-so-high moments.

Highs: Apple deals in intensely dramatic pop songs about pain, love and bad behavior, with elements of jazz, the Beatles and folk music, and she can write.

Not-as-high: Apple's voice was shaky at times. Not all the way through, but it did seem like she was struggling at points. There was also some weirdness. "I can't remember if I sang the second verse. ... You're imaginary; you're not real!" She also seemed kind of checked-out toward the end of the set.

Apple had a second showcase at Central Presbyterian Church on Thursday.

- Peter Mongillo

Happy 100th to you, Woody Guthrie

Woody Guthrie was alive and kicking on Thursday at the convention center as Eliza Gilkyson and Jimmy LaFave performed before an audience waiting to hear Bruce Springsteen's keynote speech. Guthrie's daughter introduced the duo, who were celebrating the centennial of her father's birth.

Colombian folk singer Juanes took the stage next, noting the importance of Guthrie before playing a few of his own songs. Gilkyson and LaFave rejoined him to close out the set with an upbeat version of "This Land is Your Land."

- P.M.

Norah Jones with band Little Willies

The Little Willies turned the Waterloo Records parking lot into a glorious roadhouse early Thursday afternoon. "Thanks for coming to see us, the Little Willies ...," lead singer and pianist Norah Jones said early on. "... in Big Willie country," finished singer-guitarist Richard Julian with a laugh.

Boy, Big Willie (Nelson) should be proud. As charcoal clouds nearly leaked above them, the New York-based quintet delivered an absolute burst of Hill Country sunshine for 35 minutes straight.

Naturally, the band drew heavily from their new album and steamrolled through classic country brawny (Loretta Lynn's "Fist City") and bruised (Hank Sr.'s "Lovesick Blues"). Middle-aged men in Hawaiian shirts cheered for "Tennessee Stud." College girls in floral print sundresses sung along with "Jolene." Most agreed on the high point: The Willies scorching Nelson's classic "If You've Got the Money I've Got the Time." More, please.

The band also played Thursday night at Antone's.

- Brian T. Atkinson

Lila Downs enchants with voice, dance

Lila Downs has two showcases on the schedule, but Speakeasy on Wednesday was packed tight for the first chance to see the stunning singer, whose bold, bright alto is a force of nature.

Fans welcomed her with raucous cries of "Lila, Lila!" and gave a rapturous reception to new songs from "Pecados y Milagros."

Whether singing a haunting cumbia or the irrepressible new "La Reina del Inframundo," or "Queen of the Underworld," Downs was vibrant and animated, gesturing with graceful drama and even tapping out a percussion solo with her feet.

Downs' voice commanded attention, swooping low, soaring into upper reaches and holding a note for an improbable amount of time, and she was fascinating to watch, a swirl of tropical colors as she danced.

Downs graciously introduced not only her terrific band — but also the soundman, who did a terrific job of balancing complex arrangements that included splendid harp as well as a swaggering horn section that, on this occasion, included two guest members from Austin's Grupo Fantasma.

Downs also played Thursday night at St. David's Bethell Hall.

- P.G.