13 Aug 2015: The Fonda Theater Los Angeles
The dog days of summer were coming on strong in the City of Angels on this Thursday night, with typically temperate summers giving way to some sweltering nights due to global climate change and a historic drought in the Golden State. Grace Potter’s career has also been heating up in recent years and she seemed to acknowledge the weather by opening her two-night stand in Hollywood with “Hot Summer Night”.
The dynamic vocalist from Vermont is on tour behind her new solo album Midnight, which features more of a pop direction. The solo billing ostensibly leaves her band the Nocturnals behind and has led some fans to wonder if she was “selling out” to commercial pressures from her label Hollywood Records. But closer inspection reveals nothing of the kind. Potter has paid her dues and jammed with everyone from Mick Jagger and Trey Anastasio to Bob Weir and Warren Haynes. She doesn’t need to follow anyone’s direction but her own.
Two of the Nocturnals are actually even still in the band, with Matt Burr remaining a mainstay on drums and Benny Yurco still rocking on rhythm guitar. The set also leaned heavily toward material from Potter’s previous few albums with the Nocturnals and if there was any surprise, it was how well the new songs fit in. They might sound a bit over-produced to some ears on the album, but anyone familiar with Grace Potter knows she’s going to rock out on stage no matter what. This was clear early on when she strapped on her trademark Gibson Flying V guitar, which she played for much of the evening as usual.
Potter is known for her multi-dimensional skills on both guitar and keyboards, as well as her ability to sing everything from soulful ballads to psychedelic rockers, classic rock covers, power pop gems and everything in between. She’s always had a diverse repertoire and the new album merely shows her experimenting with more pop rock flavor and production value. “The Miner” was an early highlight from Midnight, with Potter’s cathartic vocals mesmerizing the audience on the mid-tempo tune about a romantic breakdown. It paired well with 2012’s “Timekeeper” which followed, with Potter on keys demonstrating that she really hasn’t changed her creative direction.
2010’s “Medicine” ignited the theater, with Potter in full rock goddess mode like a modern day Stevie Nicks but with more of an edge. “She’s got the medicine that everybody wants,” Potter sings on the tune about a gypsy medicine woman. But the sentiment has also proven true for the rare women in rock who actually really rock, from Grace Slick to Stevie Nicks to Grace Potter and too few others. There’s always been a shortage of female rock talent, so Potter stands out from the field here in the 21st century much like Slick and Joplin did back in the ‘60s.
“Low Road” was performed as a duo with Yurco, with Potter dishing timeless wisdom about how one sometimes has to hit bottom before they can rise to the top again. Potter went deep into the well on 2006’s “Nothing But the Water”, one of her bluesiest and hardest rocking songs. She may have relocated to LA’s legendary Laurel Canyon, as she indeed informed the audience of where she’d been living for the past year while working on the album. But if she was really trying to be a pop star then this song would be on the shelf. “Turntable” was a perfect example of Potter’s ability to mix rock and pop, singing “I will be your record and you will be my turntable” with an inherently tantalizing and catchy sexual innuendo yet bringing it in a rocking context.
The new “Delirious” has a similar vocal flavor, just the latest example of how Potter has long straddled a line between rock and pop like few others can. She performed 2012’s “Stars” solo acoustic with a sparkling shimmer and then closed the set with a blast of high energy psyche rock power with the title track from 2012’s The Lion The Beast The Beat. The set had a good mix, blending the new songs with tried and true numbers to show that Potter is only moving forward not sideways or back.
The encore segment drove the point home as Potter and company returned to the stage with an extra trio of female backing singers to rock the new single “Empty Heart” with an extra kick on one of 2015’s most infectious new tunes. The extra chorus section remained onstage for the duration, contributing to an arousing slam dunk cover of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy”. Potter left no doubt where her musical heart lies in closing the night with a scintillating performance of “Paris (Ooh La La)” that segued into a raucous rendition of Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll” before returning back to “Paris” for a grand conclusion.
Listener mileage on the new album may vary, but it’s highly unlikely anyone is going to come away from a Grace Potter show in 2015 feeling like they didn’t get their expected dosage of rock ‘n’ roll medicine.
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