Grace Potter & The Nocturnals / The Wood Brothers
Charlotte, North Carolina
October 16, 2008
Grace Potter peeked out from behind the blue velvet curtain at the Visulite and gazed upon brothers Chris and Oliver Wood with a wide smile. The Wood Brothers plucked and pounded away as they finished up their killer opening set. The tone was set for Vermont-based Potter and the Nocturnals to hit the stage. Potter’s approval was written all over her face, a sentiment echoed by a Charlotte crowd that tends to grow restless while awaiting their star performer.
Chris Wood, the younger of the two brothers, stepped out of his Medeski, Martin, and Wood bubble and let loose. Throughout their set he treated his stand-up bass like a Swiss Army knife, turning it into a multi-functional backbone instrument. Oliver switched readily from acoustic to acoustic electric guitar and did the bulk of the singing. The duo mixed tunes from both of their releases with some old rollicking staples like Jimi Hendrix’s “Sweet Angel” and “Payday” by Mississippi John Hurt to create a fine set that pleased the masses and sets a generous stage.
Potter and her Noctornals wasted no time jumping on stage and rallying the crowd for their dynamic set filled with GPN standards and of course, a few surprises. The band even added a new member: a cardboard cut-out of Barack Obama, complete with blinking red feather boa and key-tar. After a sip of white wine from a plastic goblet, Potter’s voice slithered into the slinky, bluesy chorus of “Sugar, Sugar” that reminded everyone that they were in the presence of a true soul siren. Not one to be pigeon-holed, however, the second song, “Mastermind,” with its kick-drum driven backbeat and fluttering guitar, could easily find itself in any indie rock catalog among the likes of Wilco and The Whigs.
“Treat Me Right,” from the well-received album Nothing But the Water, served as a showcase for Potter’s ability to croon and moan, and as she released guttural growls throughout the chorus, her vocals were tempered by Bryan Dondero’s precise bass. Two newer songs, “Here’s to the Meantime” and “Apologies” from the 2007 release This is Somewhere, highlighted the Nocturnals’ true bravado as not only her backing band but keys to the unique sound that could easily find itself lost in the blues/soul shuffle. Potter also displayed her instrumental talents, emerging from her seat behind the Hammond B-3 to strap on an electric Flying V to rock it out a little differently.
A choice cover of Bob Dylan’s “Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You” was a treat for the audience who Potter lovingly referred to simply as “different.” The follow-up tune, an original live rarity played “only when the crowd is especially rowdy and especially Southern” had the whole audience singing and howling along to the words-to-live-by chorus: “Piss on your hand is a small price to pay for relief.” So true, Grace, so true.
The epic title track from their second effort, “Nothing But the Water” closed out the extensive set. Part I featured a lone Potter at center stage with nothing but her tambourine and gospel-tinged call to arms. The tempo quickly picked up and the band transformed itself into a better version of your local church choir flanked by humming organ and soaring guitar from Scott Tournet. By the end of the tune, the entire band surrounded Matt Burr’s drum kit, pounding away and leading up to the revival-tinged end that had the whole audience jumping and practically speaking in tongues.
“Big White Gate” filled the encore spot and sent a satisfied audience away with the voice of a soulful mama dancing in their heads.