Grace Potter and the Nocturnals in Boston

Matthew Shelter on March 30, 2011

Grace Potter and Nocturnals
House of Blues
Boston, MA
March 25

Memo to those who haven’t yet: you must see Grace Potter and The Nocturnals live to understand what all the buzz is about. It’s not that their albums, including last year’s self-titled Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, don’t reflect a certain side of the band, an increasingly polished and radio-friendly sound. But live, the Nocturnals – and they’re not a backing band, they’re a BAND – becomes a much more muscular presence.

Back on the road after a two-week break, GPN blew into Boston’s House of Blues Friday night and showed why they may be the most electrifying live act on the club circuit right now. Fans come to see Grace Potter – and she was a sight all right, in white sparkled gown over black sequined mini-dress – but what they’re treated to is a full-bore rock-and-roll road show.

Nowhere was this more apparent than on “Tiny Light,” the single off Grace Potter & The Nocturnals that’s received heavy radio airplay over the last year. As a studio track, it has “hit single” written all over it, and many hard-core fans dismiss it as “GPN-lite.” As the band put “Tiny Light” through its paces Friday night, one got the feeling that this was just “one of those songs you have to do” – the signature single off the most recent album. But then the Nocturnals – and particularly guitarists Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco – grabbed hold of the song, wrenched it out of its adult-contemporary crib, and launched into a stunning extended jam that transformed the song into a guitar epic – and kicked the show itself to another level.

I’ve always felt Tournet was the key to the band, and the reason so many fans who once worshipped at the altar of Led Zeppelin, Neil Young or the Stones can’t stop singing the praises of GPN. And since being joined by Yurco when the band reconfigured itself in early 2009, he’s found the perfect sparring partner. The two joined Potter for an acoustic version of “Treat Me Right,” sort of a post-coital cigarette after the blazing intensity of “Tiny Light,” but that was all the rest we got. With drummer Matt Burr and bassist Cat Popper back on stage, the band pounded through some of their signature live tunes: “Stop the Bus,” “Big White Gate,” “Nothing But the Water,” “Paris,” as well as a striking cover of Beyonce’s “Why Don’t You Love Me.” (Beyonce, you say? Trust me, this was the rock version.)

Their encore began with Yurco alone on stage, teasing out a long acoustic riff that, with the return of the full band, exploded into Heart’s “Crazy on You” – a song so tailor-made for this band to cover that it’s a wonder they didn’t find it earlier. As closer “Medicine” roared to a climax, Potter spun like a dervish, and the band’s playing swirled around her until one thought the entire stage might levitate to the heavens. As the last notes died away, Matt Burr climbed from his drum kit clutching his heart, as if even he could not quite believe what they had just wrought.

Really, you must see this band live.