Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
July 23, 2010
What can be said about Grace Potter and The Nocturnals that has not been already asserted? Their assembly of stylish dress has been hashed and rehashed. The stories of love at first sight from both men and women (for different reasons) are now dated tales. However, something about this anecdote differs from the norm in the fact that there has been no tragedy at the end of this love story. The people have spoken and they are proclaiming an enduring passion for more than just the look. They have fallen for the sound and this could not have been more plain to see in Atlanta on July 23rd as The Nocturnals were met by the faces of a sold out Variety Playhouse who were all gleaming to see them – many for a second or third time of the tour.
Pre-show anxieties were abound in the crowd during the extended break between the opening act which, as the world turns, was the side project of all of the Nocturnals minus bassist, Catherine Popper. The sold out show made for slightly more tension amongst those in attendance than typically desired. The Variety Playhouse is a general admission venue and as is par for the course with other similar settings, fans flocked to the floor segment of the theater, creating a tad too much body heat and slight feelings of claustrophobia. This is not to say that the spatial confinements were unpalatable, because they weren’t.
The majority of the crowd opted to discuss their affinity for Grace, take pictures with each other, and sip on pre-show beverages rather than bitch about the length of the recess or their need for fresh air. The remaining portion of fussers eventually quieted to a murmur once everyone was well aware of the fact that the opening act had in fact been three-fifths of the upcoming main event.
As is characteristic for most Grace & The Nocturnals outings, the evening began with a dimming of the house lights and an instrumental overture to Ms. Potter’s appearance. However, in contrast to most dates on this seemingly endless tour, the opener "Sweet Hands" was not the common rocking number as has been typical to a majority of recent sets. Rather, through Potter’s caressing of her Hammond, it served as a come-hither number that brought out the love of psychedelic in those who may not have even possessed the affinity prior to entry into the evening’s festivities.
What is possibly most interesting about this band is their ability to cross over in regards to its admirers who attend their live events. Representing a unique cross section of the community, this crowd boasted everyone from typical jam scenesters, gum-chewing teenage girls, old men, lovers of vocalists, and unique sound searchers who tend to lean more toward indie acts…all in the same audience. The reason why the draw is so large is that Grace and company possess elements that appeal to all of these and more. They are somewhat atypical in this and have a solid gimmick to herd the cattle in – the Nocturnals provide a visually stimulating experience but with music that’s impressive as a standalone.
Potter conceded as much in a recent conversation at the Hangout Festival, where she bluntly declared a lesson learned since entering the music business, stating that she "learned over time in this world of rock and roll that some people do not want to listen to the music first. They want to look at the pretty ‘thing.’ So why not give them the pretty thing and great music and let them come to the epiphany on their own?"
The latter is important as after being given a chance based on their look and style, one realizes that this outfit actually has substance: solid musicianship, beautiful vocal ability, and robust song writing. This would be proved time and again to the eclectic audience in Atlanta through a deliberate list of tunes with a purpose.
"Sweet Hands" was no mistake. As it came to a resounding close, the familiar drum beats of Matt Burr set in and brought about the Janis Joplin-reminiscent "Tiny Light." Potter took to the mic in this number with a vengeance. She demanded the respect from the entire room with strong yet whimpering screams that yielded shred permission to guitarist Scott Tournet. The result was a binding between all elements of the entire building and we were all on a short leash that would slowly lengthen through psychedically translated musical persuasion tinged with a taste of classic blues.
It was as though the first half of the set told a story segmented by chapters. If chapter one was about drawing you in, then chapter two was certainly for all of the lovers in the house, beginning with fan favorite "Apologies," followed by "Goodbye Kiss," and closing with "One Short Night," a song with 70s sonic hooks that transported the audience to a time when promiscuous loving was less expensive and bad habits could be dropped accordingly.
Blondie’s "Heart of Glass" would soon follow, drawing from the former theme quite well. The Nocturnals have made this familiar-to-all tune their own while not deviating too far from its original composition. They have managed to give it a grittier punk feeling that at times seemed as though it was made up entirely of on-the-spot improv. This notion may explain its introduction into their catalogue a little over a year ago – straight from their garage to the clubs.
The next true standout came in the form of another cover, Jefferson Airplane’s "White Rabbit," which served as a showcase of the often overlooked guitar play of recent addition Benny Yurco, who has developed a strong kinship with bassist Catherine Popper. The collective workings of the duo provided infatuating bait to bite at, the apple of this song based in rising crescendo. Potter soared between the interplay of Popper and Yurco, the slide of Tournet and the repetitive strapping beats of Burr. It didn’t hurt that she is totally believable as the character depicted in the Surrealistic Pillow original, as we all recalled "what the Dormouse said" and fed our head to the shrill acid-laced tongue of Grace.
In another traditional manner, the night would end with "Nothing but the Water." No matter how many times it is played, this song never ceases to amaze when played live, as even the drunkest of the drunk babblers in attendance managed to shut the fuck up when Potter took the song to its subtle midway peak.
On its whole, another Grace Potter and The Nocturnals’ show was in the books. With it, another wave was made by a band that continues to hit the road hard in support of its latest record, a self-titled effort. Their tireless efforts have taken root as evidenced by the diversity in markets that they are now stomping through as they tour the country and beyond for over 250 days out of the year.