Concert Review: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Denver, 2/11/11
This review first appeared at The Huffington Post.
Can Grace Potter get any hotter? That is the burning question spreading in cities across the country, including Denver, Colorado, which is still feeling the intense heat of Potter and her knockout collection of Nocturnals.
Leave it to Grace to thaw the Mile High City out of a deep freeze on February 11 at the Ogden Theatre during her first sold-out show in the Denver area.
That fact led some among the growing number of Potterheads to believe the 1,700-seat Ogden isn’t big enough for a talent as huge as Potter. Next time, they say, the sexy seductress needs to headline the Fillmore Auditorium, a 3,700-seat venue just down the block on Colfax Avenue.
Potter has been on a shake, rattle and roll since the group’s self-titled breakthrough album — her third for Hollywood Records – was released in June. Appearances on Letterman and Leno, a performance on VH1’s Divas concert and a duet with Kenny Chesney have thrust her into the national limelight.
While the loyalists who remember her pre-Noctunal, darker hair days and the 2004 solo debut of Original Soul remain, Potter’s metamorphosis from a high school choir girl in Vermont to glamorous rock goddess has attracted a new legion of not-so-secret admirers. Idolatry has no age limits. While teenage girls crammed the aisles of the Ogden, an old man took a seat on some steps to the right of the stage, offering, “She’s something special, isn’t she?” All came to Graceland to praise and worship at the feet of the Divine Ms. P.
“We’ve got some virgins in the house, baby,” Potter announced after hearing a loud roar from a surprising majority of the house who admitted they were seeing her perform for the first time. This pronouncement came after the group ripped through seven songs almost equally divided between 2008’s This Is Somewhere (“Ah, Mary,” “Big White Gate” and “Here’s to the Meantime”) — and last year’s career-catapulting album. The early highlight from that one, appropriately enough, was “Hot Summer Night.” The temptress certainly got their temperatures rising.
The voice, the moves, the instruments (Flying V, Hammond B-3), the songs, the band — that includes drummer and Nocturnals co-founder Matt Burr, lead guitarist Scott Tournet, rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco and bassist Cat Popper — are more than enough to get the blood flowing. (Tournet, left, with Potter.)
Then there’s Potter’s other tools of the trade: blonde bangs, glittery ankle-high shoes with killer stilettos and those “Ooh La La” long legs in a slithery, sparkly, silvery mini-dress that seem made for each other.
In a festive mood to celebrate her first sold-out show in Denver — where she supported Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings as recently as September 2010 — Potter sipped champagne and gave everyone a case of disco fever. The band even got in the spirit, with the men wearing matching white jackets while Popper, in a black leather skirt, tried to get a leg up on Potter.
As men and women (OK, mostly men) continue their great debate over weighty matters such as “Who’s the Sexiest Woman in Rock?”, Potter has to be wooing some voters as her tour heads south for the winter before winding up in March with more sellouts in New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
Potter can belt like Janis, quiver like Tina and rock like a heavy Heart back in the heyday when the Wilson sisters were prime-time Eighties Ladies. The blend of fist-pumping anthems (“Only Love”), heartfelt ballads (“Things I Never Needed”), quirky asides (the reggae-infused “One Short Night” about “one particularly debaucherous night right here in Denver”), battle-tested covers (My Morning Jacket’s “Golden”) and ball-busting blues (“Sugar”) helped form an undeniable bond among the celebrants, whether they were on stage or off.
“There’s something that happens every once in a while when a band comes in to town,” Potter said while giving the crowd a powerful dose of “Medicine” to close the set. “What it is is that a band falls in love. It can’t enough. There’s just so many beautiful people, that we just can’t leave; we don’t wanna go nowhere; that’s what you’ve done Denver; you’ve cast a spell over us; I just don’t know what to do.”
Other than adding the fill-in-the-blank city, it might have sounded like a cheesy, rehearsed soliloquy repeated in previous sold-out stops from Seattle to San Francisco to Scottsdale, Ariz. Yet it didn’t seem to matter. The sentiment came across as sincere and intimate as the whisper in your ear you remember and still cherish from that first schoolgirl crush.
Potter has that effect on you. One minute, she’s provocatively twirling to the dreamlike sounds of “Oasis,” a modern-day Salome working her own spellbinding magic. The next, she’s furiously banging on the bass drum with her bandmates or — as she did at the end of “Medicine” — taking bows in her bare feet. Potter will find a cure for whatever ails you.
The encore certainly provided some heat treatment, combining guaranteed show-stoppers with several goodies not on the published set list.
First, Yurco teased the audience on his 12-string with a mash-up of intros to “Crazy On You” and Led Zeppelin’s “Over The Hills And Far Away,” before the band blasted through a faithful version of Heart’s iconic hit. Potter then brought out opening act Chamberlin to harmonize on a version of Josh Ritter’s “Idaho” that they turned into “Colorado.”
Saying her group visited Boulder station KBCO earlier in the day to record this particular version “just to have it on file; in case you guys like it tonight, maybe they’ll play it on the radio,” Potter added, “I’ve taken some liberties with the lyrics, but I think you guys are gonna be OK with it.”
More pleasant surprises came when Potter took two requests. Accepting “Apologies” as the first, she remarked, “a downer song on a Friday night, all right, all right,” then decided, “I’m gonna need some more champagne (laughing); I’m breaking all the rules tonight.”
Acting amazed and confused when a bottle of Dom Perignon came from backstage (“I did not buy that Dom,” she said), Potter took a swig and shared, “I wrote this song when I was 17 years old after getting my heart broken; I had no idea it would mean so much to a bunch of grownups. For so many reasons, it still rings true; I really appreciate it.”
After “Nothing But The Water,” Potter and the Nocturnals finished a two-hour show with the heat-seeking missile known as “Paris (Ooh La La),” complete with suggestive lyrics, howls of pure pleasure and wails of erotically charged satisfaction.
Only 27, Potter has years to make the sex-factor work for her before it becomes a heavy cross to bear (just ask Lone Justice’s Maria McKee or Fleetwood Mac’s Steve Nicks). Until then, though, it’s hard to imagine anyone else — even No Doubt’s Gwen Stefani — capable of flourishing in today’s rock ‘n’ roll fantasy world with such style, beauty and, dare I say it, amazing Grace.
Check out the slideshow from the February 11 concert at the Ogden: