Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights House of Blues February 17, 2011
For more totally tasteful pictures from Thursday, see our slideshow here.
Ooh la la.
Aftermath is going to be real up front here. We did not know a whole lot about Grace Potter & the Nocturnals going into Thursday's show at House of Blues. Just what we had read, that the band was some sort of retro-soul throwback and the singer was rumored to be a bit of a looker.
Then we watched the YouTube clip for "Paris (Ooh La La)," from the band's self-titled 2010 album, and... damn. It's almost a dead ringer for one of our favorite songs ever, especially lately, En Vogue's "Free Your Mind." And, yeah, Potter is hot. So is Catherine Popper, her brunette bassist.
Get over it. We did. Eventually.
Aftermath does not think we are telling tales out of school to suggest that had Potter had not gone into music, she might be making a tidy living strutting down various Paris, Milan and New York catwalks. As difficult as it was to concentrate on anything but her skyscraper heels and seriously short kimono-dress - Twiggy wore longer frocks - when she came out around 9:15 p.m., she made it a whole lot easier when she started to sing.
We are not familiar with Potter's religious beliefs (if she has any), but she's got the kind of breath control and copper-plated pipes that could win her a soloist spot in any gospel choir in America. Her comment that slow and swampy opener "Joey" was about "bad boys" made us wonder if she might be a preacher's kid. During the high-kicking (literally) funk-rock of "Only Love," that question quickly changed to how on Earth she got left out of the tribute to actual preacher's kid Aretha Franklin at last Sunday's Grammys.
Don't get us wrong, Aftermath loves us some Queen of Soul, but in our ears Aretha takes a hard back seat to the ever-underappreciated Ann Peebles. So after the Bo Diddley/Traffic rave-up "Sweet Hands" and sunny reggae tune "Goodbye Kiss," when the Nocturnals lit into a sultry groove that was a kissin' cousin to Peebles' "I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down," we swooned so hard we might as well have folded up our notebook then and there.
But we didn't, and came to a surprising epiphany during the subsequent acoustic portion of the evening. Potter is obviously a star, even if only her manager, booking agent, and rapidly growing circle of fans knows it yet. But as steeped as she is in soul, R&B and '60s rock, her big break could come in country, of all places.
Aftermath thought "Big White Gate" was a little too Taylor Swift for our tastes, but that's why we are not a radio programmer. We still know a hit when we hear one, though, and "Gate" would be if it hadn't come out on the group's previous album, 2007's This Is Somewhere. Besides, the song before it, the scruffier "Here's To the Meantime," reminded Aftermath of the Drive-By Truckers songs bassist Shonna Tucker sings, and we liked it very much.
The final third of the nearly 100-minute set was happily stuck in the '60s, starting with the high-energy Staxy soul of "That Phone" and then lingering - almost languishing, honestly - in the deep pscyhedelic furrows and Zeppelin-esque crawling blues of "Mastermind," "Apologies," "Oasis" and "2:22." Potter did so much wordless vocalizing during this half-hour or so we figured she could probably record an album of whale songs and make it at least halfway interesting.
Slowly, the incense-scented chords of Potter's Hammond B-3 - where she spent at least as much time Thursday as out front - and lead guitarist Scott Tournette's Santana-like solos began to resolve themselves into Jefferson Airplane's snarling hippie death march "White Rabbit." If that song isn't based on Maurice Ravel's symphonic crossover hit "Bolero," it's pretty damn close. (See, Aftermath can be highbrow if we want to be.)
The cover left just enough tension in the air to be completely shattered by one final twosome of stone rockers. "Paris (Ooh La La)," with Potter on Flying V guitar, was way more En Vogue than on YouTube, and encore "Medicine," the alternate-reality result of The Doors kicking out Jim Morrison and recruiting Tina Turner for Side 1 of Morrison Hotel. "She's got the medicine everybody wants," Potter sang.
Yes she did.
Personal Bias: Ahem. We think we may have addressed this earlier.
The Crowd: Not a sausage fest at all, with many ladies sporting heels (if not hemlines) as precariously high as Potter's. And surprisingly attentive and mute for a House of Blues audience; the chattering crowd must have been at Broken Social Scene.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Go on, girl! Bring it!" Said by a dude.
Random Notebook Dump: Dallas-based openers Jonathan Tyler & the Northern Lights (above), last seen by Aftermath at the 2010 Houston Press Music Awards showcase, made a stronger case than ever that it's not the Black Crowes' mantle they're out to inherit - although we walked in on some vintage Southern Harmony & Musical Companion jamming - but smoother Texas supergroup the Arc Angels'. Throw in some Lenny Kravitz, a little Hendrix and a whole lotta Zeppelin (via Sonny Boy Williamson's "Bring It On Home"), and you've got a band that is a Sly & the Family Stone record or two away from being something truly special - and there's plenty of time for them to get there.
GRACE POTTER SET LIST (WITH LIGHTING CUES):
Joey (keep it evil til vocals) Only Love (rock) Sweet Hands (rock) Goodbye Kiss (reggae) Low Road (Doo-Wop) One Short Night (Road Trip Song) Here's To the Meantime (rock) Big White Gate (acoustic) That Phone (rock) Mastermind (long psych. Intro) Apologies (sad ballad) Oasis (psychedelic rock) 2:22 (long blues intro) White Rabbit (psychedelic) (Jefferson Airplane cover) Paris (Ooh La La) (rock w/crazy ending)
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Medicine (rock w/crazy ending)