Grace Potter & The Nocturnals in Boston

Matthew Shelter on December 7, 2012

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals
House of Blues
Boston, MA
December 1

For my money, there is no better live rock and roll band touring the clubs and theatres of America than Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. I know, arguments can be made for a lot of other bands that are better at this or better at that. I see a lot of other bands and I like a lot of other bands. But for honest-to-goodness rock and roll, live on stage, not in a stadium, not in an arena, in the kind of mid-size venue where everyone is packed in hot and sweaty and the stage is right there in front of you, not twenty yards away behind some barrier – well, when it comes to that kind of show, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals are what rock and roll is all about.

On the second of two sold-out nights at the House of Blues in Boston, the band from Vermont brought their A game (I’m not sure if they really have a B game). Out of the gate with “Paris (Ooh La La),” “Hot Summer Night” and “Mastermind,” it was a night for rockers more than ballads. About the slowest they got during the evening was a slinky version of “Treat Me Right,” with Potter on keyboards conjuring up the ghost of Jim Morrison and the Doors, circa L.A. Woman. Much of the rest of the night was spent in full-frontal assault on the sense and sensibility of the 2,500 happy patrons of the Landsdowne Street club.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this band attracts a lot of down and dirty rock fans as much because of the guitar playing of Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco as the singing voice and obvious star power of the radiant Potter (who can play a pretty mean guitar herself). About midway through the show, Tournet and Yurco found a groove that weaved itself serpent-like from “Turntable” to “Tiny Light” to “Sugar” and then “Stop the Bus.” The last of these remains the band’s quintessential concert number, serving for GPN what “Midnight Rambler” does for the Stones – the song that, when performed live, ties together everything the band does uniquely well. Potter and the Nocturnals dropped “Stop the Bus” from their set list for a while a few years ago, I’m guessing because they didn’t want to flog it until it was no fun to play anymore. But it turned out to be a short hiatus, as the song forced its way back into the mix, and it’s now a rare show in which it’s not included.

GPN closed out their regular set at the HOB with the title track from their most recent album, The Lion The Beast The Beat, before returning for an encore of “Stars” (as seen on TV!) and the classic blues cover from the dawn of rock and roll, “Mystery Train,” for which they brought back out to the stage the five members of opening act Trampled By Turtles, a talented Minnesota-based bluegrass band.

It’s of little surprise to anyone who has followed her ascent that Grace Potter has become a captivating stage presence. She’s undoubtedly the main reason a lot of fans come to the show. But to her everlasting credit, she never lets the showmanship outshine the music. She can fill out a short dress and thigh-high boots with the best of ‘em, and she knows how to use her star power to great effect. But she’s never forgotten that she’s the leader of a true rock and roll band. She’s resisted the temptation to ditch the Nocturnals and follow the opportunities for a solo career that are surely there for her. That is a good thing. Rock and roll needs plenty more Saturday nights like the one this band just gave us in Boston.