Grace Potter And The Nocturnals at Pabst Theater
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It’s hard not to draw parallels between Sunday night’s near-sellout at the Pabst Theater by Grace Potter And The Nocturnals and the similarly packed Riverside show last November by Alabama Shakes. Both featured fairly unoriginal, rootsy rock bands with wildly talented lead singers who were practically the whole show. Potter has the good sense to put her own name in lights (although the Shakes’ Brittany Howard is the more unique and powerful singer of the two), but the biggest difference between the acts is the polished and potent two- and three-guitar bombast of The Nocturnals. Throughout a tight two-hour set, there were enough muscular riffs and arena-ready head-bangs to satisfy the cravings of any classic rock aficionado, and the boisterous energy of Potter was impossible to resist.
If you’ve seen Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers and you’ve seen My Morning Jacket, then you’ve seen The Nocturnals. The musicians are proficient, but their songs are mostly by-the-numbers blues-rock that instantly bring to mind other songs they’re mimicking. It doesn’t help that Potter’s natural voice, through no fault of her own, is very similar to any number of Bonnie Raitt disciples; Susan Tedeschi and Faith Hill don’t have quite the range or exuberance of Potter, but their timbre and phrasing aren’t much different from each other, particularly on record. But while 2010’s self-titled album and last year’s The Lion The Beast The Beat veer into adult-contemporary territory, Potter and the band certainly beef the tunes up in the live setting.
Potter began and ended the show solo, opening with a fiery slide guitar rendition of “Nothing But The Water (I).” It was a terrific start, but the ensuing hour got bogged down in mostly generic material. (The gentle acoustic number “Things I Never Needed” was an early highlight.) Potter bounced and gyrated from center stage to keyboards, and frequently jammed on her Flying V guitar while the band borrowed the My Morning Jacket trick of creating the illusion of improvisation simply by playing increasingly louder and heavier. Aside from drummer Matt Burr’s utter lack of finesse, the cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” was entertaining, and the smoldering, dark swagger of “The Divide” followed by the big hit “Paris (Ooh La La)” was a fantastic way to end the set. There was no letup for the encore—the band brought down the house with extended versions of “The Lion The Beast The Beat” and “Medicine” (with the riff from Phish’s “Tweezer” thrown in for good measure), and Potter sang “I Shall Be Released” alone at the organ to send the enthusiastic crowd home happy.