Monday, September 12, 2011

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals

First off, I have to wish Shows Big And Small a belated second birthday. It's been a great couple of years and I've seen some incredible shows, as well as some not so good ones. One thing that hasn't changed is my love for live music, be it in an arena, at a festival, or in a local club or coffee house. I love going to shows and I love giving my take on them, and I also love any debate that my opinion may spark. I realize that not everyone will agree with every post, and I'm always open for discussion. So here's to another year full of live music in Nashville, including the big 100th show, whatever it may be.

That being said, last night's Grace Potter show at the Ryman was one of those ones that became an instant classic, up there with Sir Paul, and The Lips. This was one of those shows where I went down and bought a ticket for full price, the day they went on sale, not wanting to gamble on a last minute sidewalk score. I had seen Miss Grace (as she will be henceforth christened) at Bonnaroo a couple of years ago on a side stage in the middle of the afternoon and I remember that set being one of the best of the weekend. I knew this was gonna be good.

I arrived at my aisle seat in the balcony as the openers were finishing their first song. I had seen the Carolina Chocolate Drops open for Old Crow Medicine show a couple of years ago and I remembered being unmoved back then. Last night however, I think I got just plain irritated. At least being paired with Old Crow put them in the right genre, as an old timey string band with tinges of bluegrass and ragtime. When I arrived ready to rock and was met instead with kazoo solos and some sloppy side mouth voice trumpet I was unnerved, and then when they started beat boxing, I shook my head and walked out. If I'm at the fairgrounds for a chili cook-off, then fine, bring on the Drops. But at a rock show like the Nocturnals, don't give me that crap. Next time they're on the bill, I think I'll just stay at the Honkey Tonk a little longer.

When the lights when down, I fully expected the band to come out and start playing before Miss Grace came out. I was pleasantly surprised to see the opposite happen. She came out alone with a white Flying V and played the intro to one of my favorites, "Nothing But The Water" before the rest of the band came out and finished the song. By the end of the first verse I had already moved to the walkway in the back of the balcony. I don't know if the Drops sucked the energy out of the place or if the Mother Church was still asleep from the previous night's gig, but I was already getting sneers for being the only one in the balcony standing up. This lack of energy continued until Miss Grace finally said "Come on, why don't y'all stand up" and everyone woke up and got into it.

I couldn't understand how anyone could sit still. The Nocturnals were smokin', much like what would happen if Heart and The Black Crowes had a rock baby. The dual guitar attack of Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco was flawless and the rhythm section shook the place with Matt Burr's power drumming and the sultry Catherine Popper on bass. Their onstage chemistry and feel for dynamics blended perfectly with Miss Grace's work, both on guitar and Hammond B-3. Whether they were crooning ballads like "Apologies" or rocking out on "Goodbye Kiss", they nailed it. Even when the rhythm section left the stage, the remaining guitarists played a moving acoustic section which included Gillian Welch's "Elvis Presley Blues".

After finishing the set with a blistering number I couldn't identify, they came back for the encore starting with ZZ Top's "Tush". Then, when she started talking about requests, someone yelled out "Tequila", referencing her duet with Kenny Chesney. She obliged, and just when I thought she wasn't a hundred percent perfect, she told the story of Chesney informing her of a CMA nomination only to reply "What the heck is a CMA?" So awesome. They finished up the show with two big hitters, "Paris" and "The Medicine", and left the Ryman in shambles.

I still don't think I've adequately described just how talented Grace Potter is. She didn't just play that organ, she laid down some of the funkiest grooves of the night. Her energy was incredible as she shook and jived all over the stage, and her voice, it was perfect from those low pitch croons to the high squeals and everything in between. Also, it didn't hurt that she had those legs in a dress that Tina Turner would call short. This girl, and band for that matter, is everything that is right in Rock and Roll. I know most of America won't pick up on these guys, but the ones who know anything about good music will catch on and The Nocturnals will become another one of those bands that keeps packing festivals and theaters and rocking those who are smart enough to be there.

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