Grace Potter at The Orpheum

Matthew Shelter on November 10, 2015

Grace Potter
Orpheum Theatre
Boston, Mass.
October 30

One feels it’s a bit unfair to compare Grace Potter’s current (solo) pop act to her previous incarnation as frontwoman of Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, the rootsy, jam-loving rock band she led for more than 10 years. If she wants to play pop songs now, then as a pop artist she should be assessed. Her past history with the Nocturnals shouldn’t matter one way or the other. But alas, a comparison between the new and old Grace Potter is hard to avoid.

At the first of two nights at the Orpheum Theatre in Boston, the Potter who now fronts a largely faceless backing band suffered by comparison with Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. While Potter is a good pop singer and remains a captivating stage presence, the synergy the Nocturnals brought to the mix was palpably missing.

Potter always had a healthy dose of pop singer inside her even when she was with the Nocs. Indeed, she sees Midnight, the solo album she released earlier this year, as essentially another step along a continuum rather than the abrupt change in direction some of her longtime fans considered it to be. Whether it’s an evolution or a sharp break, it has certainly heralded a change in emphasis both in the studio and in live performance. The interplay between band and singer has taken a back seat to shining the spotlight solely on Potter.

The Vermont native devoted roughly a third of her Boston set to tracks from her new album, with the balance drawn from the four records she released with the Nocs. Several of the new songs, including “Empty Heart,” “Your Girl” and “Biggest Fan” translated well to the live stage, while others, such as “Alive Tonight,” “Delirious” and “Low,” failed to catch fire.

The only former Nocturnal on stage with Potter in Boston was guitarist Benny Yurco. Drummer Matt Burr, who has been part of Potter’s current backing band, did not perform on this night. The band she’s assembled behind her in their stead is certainly capable, but they did not reach any of the transcendent highs that Grace Potter & The Nocturnals were regularly capable of achieving on the live stage.

Grace Potter remains a dynamic performer, and cannot be faulted for following her muse in whatever direction it calls her. But one can’t help but hope she veers back toward her roots at some point down the road. There are a whole slew of solo pop artists that are already mining the territory Potter has moved into. There are very few bands that could match Grace Potter & The Nocturnals on a good night.