By MIKE CHAIKEN
When a musical artist is known for a particularly left-of-center style— and word arrives that their newest recorded effort is “pop”— trepidation ripples through the ears of their hardcore fans. Has their favorite artist sold out to the corporate world and the lure of the almighty dollar?
So when the rootsy Grace Potter and the Nocturnals became no more and morphed into Grace Potter, solo artist, we imagine fans of her past existence were worried. And, indeed, “Midnight” fits more easily into the top pop hits of today than the efforts the fans had grown to know and love. Although, with the presences of members of the Flaming Lips and the Queens of the Stone Age, we’re hardly talking about a new Ariana Grande record.
But Potter’s live show on Dec. 5 at the College Street Music Hall in New Haven proved to hardcore fans that they did not need to worry about Grace losing herself in the world of commercial music.
There may be some “gloss” on “Midnight.” But in concert, Grace – and her band the Midnight Road Show—offer up plenty of crunch on the newer tracks. And on the older material, the band knows how to jam in a manner that would give the Grateful Dead and Phish a run for their money.
Musically, Grace and her group know how to work a groove. They were tight. They were energetic. And the sound was powerful.
And Grace’s voice is still Grace with its bluesy, raspy timbre—chock full of gutsiness. She still is more Janis Joplin than Mariah Carey.
In concert, Grace also foregoes pop extravaganza. She drew up a set list that took the audience on a trip. Sometimes she slowed things down, nice and spacey. Then she pulled out something bluesy. And then she’d rip out some three chord rockers. She made sure the evening was dynamic and never let the audience grow complacent.
The key to the success of the Dec. 5 gig was Grace herself. She doesn’t simply stand there on stage, offer up a bunch of rock poses, and go home. She’s personable. She chats with the audience, rather than just offer up generic stage patter. And she treated everyone in the audience in the crowd like family.
An example of her love for the fans came several songs into the set.
In front of the stage, there was a barrier with about three feet of space between the metal bars and the stage. The space had a practical purpose for the first three songs, allowing photographers unfettered access to get the shots they needed. But once the photographers were gone, the space was empty. So she asked security move it in closer so she could have more access to her fans. Once she was able to, she pressed the flesh, gladly accepted Santa hats offered by the fans at the barrier and then donned them a few minutes.
As a performer, Grace barely stood still. She planted herself at the microphone when it was time to sing. And when she had to offer up a few riffs at the Hammond organ, she stood still for a few bars. But when she was strapped into her guitar she jogged from one side of the stage to the next.
It was clear throughout the two-hour plus evening that Grace loves to perform. And she loves her fans.
During an interview with Grace, she explained her live performance hero is Bruce Springsteen. And you could definitely sense that template in her New Haven performance. She was all about heating up the audience and showing everyone a good time.
Even if the floor of the venue had not been general admission standing, Grace would have had everyone on their feet and grooving.
I give Grace Potter’s performance on Dec. 5 at the College Street Music Hall in New Haven 3 ½ out of 4 stars.
PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN