By Chris M. Junior
Jazz, blues and soul regularly grace WXPN-FM’s airways, so it makes sense for the Philadelphia public radio station to present all three genres on the same concert stage.
That was the case July 23 at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden, N.J., during the second day of the XPoNential Music Festival presented by Subaru, although it wasn’t the original plan. When heavy rain wiped out the Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s set at nearby Wiggins Park, event organizers shuffled the set times at BB&T to accommodate the group.
So instead of the music beginning an hour after doors opened at 6 p.m., scheduled opener Chicano Batman hit the amphitheater stage about 15 minutes earlier than planned, with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band following around 7:40 p.m. And in no time, the already jubilant environment was elevated with a decidedly New Orleans flavor.
Gary Clark Jr. and his three-piece band performed four songs each from his two Warner Bros. albums, 2012’s “Blak and Blu” and 2015’s “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim,” and they rounded out the set with Clark’s own “Don’t Owe You a Thang” and a cover of an Elmore James tune. Even without the powerful horns, “Ain’t Messin 'Round” was a highlight, with Clark’s thick guitar lines and drummer Johnny Radelat’s cymbal work filling out the extended rendition, which at one point transitioned into a section that echoed 1970s porn music.
Headliner Alabama Shakes augmented its core four with two keyboardists and three backing singers, but even so, nobody came close to overshadowing Brittany Howard. Her vocal range (and accompanying facial expressions) are can’t-miss characteristics that get plenty of attention, but what’s often overlooked is Howard’s rhythm guitar work, which drives and anchors the band’s old-school-flavored soul. “Gimme All Your Love” and “Don’t Wanna Fight,” both from 2015’s excellent “Sound & Color,” provided a potent one-two punch late in the set.