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Anna Holloway review: Clark Beckham brought some serious cool to VZD’s

Clark Beckham performed to sold out, SRO, shut-down sized crowd at VZD’s in Oklahoma City on Feb. 21. He has some Oklahoma City connections, and his visit here brought out many fans. The intimacy of the setting was perfect for Beckham’s personality and his music. 

In addition to his skills as a performer — he had a warm, intimate style that was easy to experience — Beckham is also a songwriter, focused mostly in the R&B/pop areas. There is a streak of jazziness in all of his work; he’s not afraid of unexpected harmonies. His harmonies are interesting and unusual but utterly accessible; he didn’t ever seem to be performing over the heads of his audience. His musicianship contributed to this; his keyboard and guitar skills were precise and clean. On one piece, his fingering up the neck of the guitar was especially impressive, demonstrating some serious technical skills. Musically, Beckham’s skill is not unusual — there are many skilled musicians. What sets him apart was the personality he brought to the stage: Clark Beckham is a performer with charisma. 

Beckham also “plays” the looping system — a form of studio magic. He recorded a few seconds of percussion — vocal or other — and set it to repeat; he laid a short riff to repeat on top of that. Adding layers, he built a texture of piano, guitar and rhythm tracks to create the "band" over which he played and sang. Managing this whole system with a series of foot pedals, he essentially played all the instruments, some more than once, at the same time.

Watching Beckham build the background tracks into a rich musical texture was not only great fun, it was a way of making the audience a part of the process of songbuilding. There was nothing mechanical or tedious about the process; Beckham’s genial good humor about what he was doing invited and supported audience attention as the mechanics of the process moved forward. 

Essentially, the audience got to see the sausage as it was made. And Clark Beckham made some sweet and spicy sausage that evening. 

Beckham included some standards and hymns among his own original material; there were elements of jazz, soul, rock, R&B and pop throughout the evening. Each piece had his own stamp on it; his rendition of "Bright, Sunshiny Day" was haunting. The mix seemed fitting to his easygoing personality; he projected a warmth and companionable charm that worked very well in the intimate setting.

Beckham’s sense of humor showed as he shared his childhood musical inspirations: Movie music. He played a medley of tunes, including “Go the Distance” from the Disney "Hercules," “You Got a Friend in Me” from "Toy Story," and the theme from "The Land Before Time." Having spent a portion of his career playing for a range of churches, he gave a hilarious demonstration on “How to Accompany an Evangelical Preacher” that managed to avoid any hint of disrespect for evangelicals. Parody without insult is a talent in itself.

He shared his mistakes when creating the layers of his background tracks and showed an endearing honesty about the often artificial feeling of a planned “encore” — he invited the audience to choose how he would end the evening’s performance. He was also available to fans afterwards, confirming that his geniality onstage matches the person.

Beckham finished second in the 2015 season of American Idol; he has since signed with Quincy Jones management. He completed this part of his U.S. tour in Nashville on March 29; he’ll be going across the pond for concerts in London in April. Check his website at for more information.

Anna Holloway

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