I’m going to have to quit calling Grace Potter and the Nocturnals a blues band. It was probably too easy a pigeonhole anyhow, because Grace reminded me of both Bonnie Raitt and Susan Tedeschi when I first heard Nothing But the Water last year. Then came last night, when the band played Madison’s Memorial Union Terrace, and thoroughly rocked the joint. Informed by the blues, oh yeah; limited to the blues, absolutely not.
I’ve seen Susan Tedeschi live once, never seen Bonnie Raitt, and I doubt that either one of them ever got her Janis Joplin on the way Grace did last night. She shuttled between keyboards and guitar, and traded riffs with lead guitarist Scott Tournet with all the power and attitude of the great guitar-slingers of old. All the while, she was as sexy and magnetic a presence as I’ve seen in a bigtime show for a long time. (Of course, at most of the bigtime shows I’ve attended in the last several years the performers were pushing 60, so that might have something to do with it. Grace is 23.)
In the last few weeks I’ve heard a couple of tracks from their forthcoming album This Is Somewhere (due August 7), and I wasn’t knocked sideways by them. But after hearing some more songs from the album last night, I’m a lot more excited about it—“Mastermind” and “Mr. Columbus” were among the show’s high points. “Mr. Columbus” sounds positively retro—it actually reminded me of Blondie just a little—and it sounds more like a hit to me than “Ah Mary,” the designated single from the new album. As you may know, I love me some organ—and the B3 on “Ain’t No Time,” also from the new album, had the feeling of Booker T. at Stax.
I apparently came pretty close to missing my favorite tune from Nothing But the Water, “Joey”—Grace said it wasn’t in the setlist but they were playing it as a request from some of the folks down front. It didn’t disappoint—started smoldering slow, ended up burnin’.
The band (which also features Matthew Burr on drums and Bryan Dondero on bass) was having trouble with its stage monitors all night, but that didn’t seem to trouble the audience much. At the end of the main show, each band member took an instrument over to the monitors and set up a rumble of feedback, which lingered long after they’d left the stage. (Burr did a semi-Keith Moon on his drum kit, tossing a cymbal and its stand off the back of the stage to the sidewalk below.) Coming out for the encore, Grace said, “We fried two amplifiers tonight. Which sucks because they’re kind of expensive.” So they’ll be shopping for amps in Milwaukee today before playing Shank Hall tonight. (Other upcoming dates are here.)
Don’t worry about the money, honey. You guys are gonna be rich before you’re done.