Concert review — at Roanoke Performing Arts Theatre, fan requests propel but never quell Grace Potter
By Tad Dickens | 777-6474
After her first song Thursday night, Grace Potter had a request for her audience at the Roanoke Performing Arts Theatre.
“What do you say we stand up here for a little bit,” Potter told the crowd of about 1,600. “There’ll be plenty of time to sit later. Let’s get a groove on now.”
Fair enough. She and her band, the Nocturnals, had already taken many requests via Twitter. Fans who hashtagged “gpnsetlist” got to pick many of the tunes they heard Thursday, and the numbers ranged from set opener “Ah, Mary” and “Here’s To The Meantime,” from 2008’s “This Is Somewhere” to brand new songs from this year’s “The Lion The Beast The Beat” — “Never Go Back” and “Parachute Heart.”
Potter, whether on guitar, Hammond organ or upright piano, was at the center of it all. After a decade on the road, her voice still makes her sound like a love child of Robert Plant and Ann Wilson of Heart. If she wasn’t playing and singing, she was dancing and singing, encouraging the audience to clap or sing along.
Behind her, the Nocturnals rocked it, with new bassist/multi-instrumentalist Michael Libramento moving to a Rhodes electric piano or Potter’s Hammond, with rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco exchanging six strings for the bottom-end four, and grooving with drummer Matt Burr. Scott Tournet’s guitar work kept things in turn grinding, psychedelic or mellow.
And once the crowd got to its feet, many of the folks stayed up.
“If you guys are getting tired, you can sit down,” Potter said, seven songs into their set. “No!” came shouted replies from several quarters.
“I like it when you stand up,” she said. “You’re awesome.”
Then she dipped back into 2008, fingerpicking an acoustic guitar, with only Tournet’s accompaniment, for “Falling or Flying,” which she told the crowd was one of the first songs she wrote on the road. And it was about the road.
The vibe went from “Things ain’t good/But things ain’t boring” to “This too will pass/Play every show like it’s your last.”
Those last two lines might be cliche, but for Potter and her band, they’re true. Energy abounded in the breakup songs of “Goodbye Kiss” and “Toothbrush and My Table,” as well as the psychedelic blues-rock of “Sugar” and the pop-rock mourn of the latest single, “Stars.”
Singalongs were commonplace. But Potter’s own powerful instrument rose above it all, still effortlessly hitting the stratosphere, giving up sexy growls and primal screaming — sometimes all in the space of one number.
Opening act Rayland Baxter, who has gotten some adult alternative radio play with his single, “Driveway Melody,” set up an early contrast for the headliner. The laid-back Baxter never left his chair during a 40-minute opening set. With a Fender electric in hand, he fingerpicked a lot, whistled some and put his round tenor to some pastoral folk-rock music. He and his brand-new band made some new fans, judging from the response at set’s end.