Grace Potter and the Nocturnals captivate Boston

A review of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at the Wilbur Theatre on September 25

, Contributing Writer

I have to put a disclaimer on this review right from the start: if you aren’t interested in reading a semi-saccharine, completely glowing review of a performance, you may want to stop reading right now. Having walked into the Wilbur Theater last night knowing nothing about Grace Potter and her band The Nocturnals aside from their name, and walking out with a legitimate musical crush on all of them, I have nothing but good things to say. Okay, you’ve been warned – here it goes.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals unassumingly took the stage in front of a nearly full Wilbur Theater looking like every other female fronted band I have seen lately. The guys were on drums, bass, and guitar with a solo microphone stand which is where I figured Potter would reside for the duration of the performance. I never expected her to sit behind a Hammond B3 electric organ, and not only play it, but completely own it and the other two keyboards on the stage. Opening with “Ragged Company” the maturity of the lyrics mixed with the soulfulness of Potter’s tone had the audience enthralled.& Moving on to “Ain’t No Time” sped things up and had the crowd clapping and dancing along, the upbeat tempo of the instrumental combined with the emotion of the lyrics creating a great contradiction.

Potter then addressed the crowd, thanking them for coming and saying “It’s been a long time since we were home in Boston” which got a huge applause from the audience. It was obvious throughout the set that this band has developed a strong following, as people sang along and often shouted requests. Lead by an intensity-increasing instrumental introduction Potter then sang “Mastermind”, which featured some impressive chair dancing from her place behind the Hammond.

Things slowed down a bit, but didn’t stay that way for long, as a haunting introduction began the more country sounding “Treat Me Right” and solidified the fact that Grace Potter and the Nocturnals truly sound like a band channeling 1970, and I mean that in the most complimentary way possible. Their hard-rock sound is nothing short of a perfect blend of the bands we all know and love from the 1970s – Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, while Potter herself fulfills the role of a Janis Joplin/Joni Mitchell mash-up with a hint of modern day Melissa Etheridge.& Potter’s energetic, folk-rock delivery is the highlight of the show, but she is the first to acknowledge that the sound wouldn’t exist without her band, comprised of bassist Bryan Dondero, drummer Matt Burr and lead guitar Scott Tournet who she introduced to the audience at the end of “Treat Me Right.”

“Stop The Bus” a perfect road trip song, followed and garnered huge cheers from the audience throughout, but none as loud as when Potter stepped away from the Hammond and picked up her Flying V. Yes, I said Flying V, which she plays masterfully. Keeping the momentum going a high-energy “Here’s To The Meantime” came next followed by “Ah Mary” which highlighted Potter’s unceasingly strong, clear and powerful vocals even over the volume of her extremely talented band. Otis Redding’s “Pain In My Heart” was one of the highlights of the show. Potter’s tremendous stage presence and old-soul richness within her vocal captivated and silenced the audience. Keeping the audience in their trance-like state, “Apologies” followed and literally pulled the crowd into the emotion of the lyrics.

Picking up an acoustic Potter introduced the next song saying “I wish this song was about Levon Helm” as she began “Lose Some Time” featuring the lyric “When that light shines on you/You know it soothes my soul/Finding time to lose with you/Is water in the dust bowl.” Back on the Flying V, Potter and company amped up the energy after a few slower ones with “If I Was From Paris” during which Potter and the crowd swapped lines on the “oo, la, la, la, la, la, la, la.” With some purposely created feedback and one of many guitar solos from Tournet, the band kicked off a song featuring the lyric “Sugar, sugar, sugar/You’re just too sweet for me” before segueing into an incredible cover of “Paint It Black” andclosing out the regular set.

Coming back on stage for a well deserved encore Potter began with a gospel-inspired solo of “Nothing But The Water (I)” with the only support being audience clapping that was nothing short of awe-inspiring. With her band back behind her, Potter got comfortable at the organ for “Nothing But The Water (II)” that featured a riotous three minute group solo around the drum kit before closing out the song. Ending the show was a cover of “Sweet Emotion” that should have Stephen Tyler a little nervous about his job security.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are without a doubt one of the best live performances I have seen thus far this year. Potter and company deliver a dynamic experience that demands the respect of the audience due to their undeniable talent. Do yourself a favor, buy the album This Is Somewhere, and be sure to check them out next time they come to town. I know I’ll be there.

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