When Rolling Stone and Bud Light join forces to throw a Super Bowl party, you can expect it to be a little more exciting than the usual chips and salsa affair at your neighbor’s house. What you don’t expect is the chance to see three top notch performers keep the spirit of rock and roll alive amidst the most commercialized spectacle in the country. Stevie Wonder, Gary Clark Jr, and Janelle Monae all brought the house down with their impassioned performances that managed to entice even the richest of the rich to get down and dirty with an all night dance party in The Big Easy on Super Bowl Eve.
Ms. Janelle Monae, a surprise last minute addition to the bill, took the stage after a brief delay with her band whose black and white wardrobe was the only thing tighter than their impressive musicianship. As the band kicked into the opening of The Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back,” it was immediately clear that this was a party with a capital P and Ms. Monae was going to get us moving if it killed her. Leading the band like a female James Brown, Monae danced both onstage and in the middle of the audience as she blasted through a quick six song set. Monae ended with her entire band laying on the ground, playing their hearts out as their fearless leader belted out notes that undoubtedly got the attention of Gary Clark Jr. and Stevie Wonder backstage.
Gary Clark Jr. took the stage solo with the house music still playing and commenced to wrench notes from his guitar like a drunk Saints fan getting a hold of Roger Goodell in a back alley. After a whirlwind year in which the young guitarist went from Austin, Texas, blues clubs to sitting in with The Rolling Stones, Gary Clark Jr. showed no sign of slowing down. He started strong with the power blues of “When My Train Pulls In” with loud, extended solos aplenty that got everyone’s attention real quick. The blistering blues of “Don’t Owe You a Thang” and “Ain’t Messing Around” proved the power not just of Gary Clark Jr, but the entire band as they muscled along with their frontman. Slowing it down for “Please Come Home,” Clark’s soulful falsetto proved his versatility as a songwriter, a fact often overlooked by his guitar chops. By the time Gary ripped into the intro of “Bright Lights, Big City” and sang “You gonna know my name by the end of the night,” he wasn’t lying.
Stevie Wonder, the headliner, did not disappoint and chose some party favorites to cover along with his own classics. “Higher Ground” was certifiably funky, with the ten piece band (including TWO bongo players) pulsing along as Wonder’s smooth tenor uplifted the crowd. Wonder was ecstatic throughout the set, with big smiles as he welcomed Gary Clark Jr. back onstage to help “Bring The Funk” with a choice Parliament cover that would make George Clinton proud. Gary Clark Jr. stayed onstage for the remainder of the set, and was joined by Janelle Monae (introduced as “my dream girl” by Mr. Wonder) for a celebratory rendition of “Superstition” that got every booty in the house shaking.
After a show like this, with all three artists turning in timeless, irresistible performances, the football game had a hard act to follow. It’s comforting to know that despite the commercial nature of the entire Super Bowl frenzy, there’s still a place for real artists to bring people together and have a good time. Besides, isn’t that what the Super Bowl’s supposed to be about?
Gary Clark Jr.
When My Train Pulls in
Don’t Owe you a Thang
Please Come Home
Ain’t Messing Around
Third Stone From The Sun >
DJ scratch jam >
Third Stone From The Sun
If Trouble Was Money (Albert Collins)
Bright Lights, Big City
How Sweet It Is (Marvin Gaye)
Jammin (Bob Marley)
The Way You Make Me Feel (Michael Jackson)
Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing
Bring The Funk (Parliament-Funkadelic)*
Isn’t She Lovely*
Ribbon in the Sky*
*with Gary Clark Jr.
^ with Janelle Monae