It's fitting that the 2017 Canalside Live season kicked off with a headlining set from Gary Clark Jr., for Buffalo has always been a blues town, and Clark is one of the leading lights of the new generation of bluesmen emerging over the past decade.
Buffalo is also a town that values new hybrids and wants its music to be on the cutting edge, and Clark also satisfies on this level.
Throughout his Canalside show on Thursday, Clark married Deep South blues, urban northern electric blues, R&B, Motown pop, soul and funk into a stirring and soulful gumbo.
Good lord, did Clark bring it.
Clark was not actually making his Buffalo debut on Thursday. That happened years back, when he was an unknown touring blues man hitting all the stops, among them a gig at the old Howdy's on Main Street in Clarence.
But this was Clark's first time on a major Buffalo stage, and he took full advantage of the opportunity, moving through his broad range of roots music stylings - old school Delta on "Next Door Neighbor Blues," pure Band of Gypsies Hendrix on "Cold Blooded," and summoning Curtis Mayfield, the Isley Brothers and Albert Collins whenever he felt like it throughout the show. Clark astounded, and the crowd expressed its joyful astonishment in return.
A nod is necessary to the opening act, Larkin Poe.
Fronted by sisters Rebecca and Megan Lovell, the Atlanta-born group offered a gut-wrenching blend of raunchy blues and rock and roll that earned it many a new fan during its set. Watch for this band. Black Keys-level success is surely its due.
This was the first Canalside Live show of the season, under the space's new management, and also the first to boast a paid ticket admission. The crowd was a bit smaller, but the attention level of those in attendance seemed to have reached a higher plateau than in previous, free-admission years.
We'll see how it all plays out. But the first show of the year was most definitely a winner.