Grace Potter is rock and roll.
Her name was in bright lights Friday night on the Crystal Bay Casino marquee, announcing her return to Lake Tahoe after three years away. It was something special seeing her name up there, though, like a star that has fallen from its place in the heavens to somewhere a little closer to Earth to reveal its sparkling majesty.
Potter has seen her name on the marquess of the biggest stages of her career this past year since releasing her first solo record, “Midnight.” She opened for the Rolling Stones in Minneapolis and got to even belt it out with Mr. Lips himself, Mick Jagger, on “Gimme Shelter.” This big leap, however, is without the band that helped her get to this status, the bluesy, mountain rascals The Nocturnals. She now commands a sleek five-piece band that captures the sound Potter has veered toward with her new solo material, which sounds more like a night out on the glowing L.A. strip than cruising for the hills.
The frontwoman was eager to show off her new sound at the CBC to an adoring, sold-out crowd. She ripped opened the night with a searing “Hot To The Touch” from “Midnight,” a slanky, disco-inspired number that would go well with a glitter cannon. Potter was magnetic right from the start, a 1,000-watt smile and moves like a gypsy, playing the B3 Hammond organ as she belted out the chorus. After expressing her excitement to play the room, she launched into her classic anthem “Ah Mary” with sultry gusto. The song was a righteous punch of rock and roll and has been a finale staple for Potter for years. The fact she can now throw that into her set as the second song is a sign she has reached a new level of artistry with an energy that is built to blow people away for an hour and 45 minutes of hair-raising rock.
As Potter’s sound has continued to grow it’s jaw-droppingly clear that she is a student of the greats and is becoming a sonic master in her own right. She went from glossy country-rock on “Empty Heart” to heady, electric epic on “Timekeeper” to flirty pop on “Your Girl” with smooth aplomb, the set never feeling disjointed by warring sounds or musical ideas.
In fact, Potter was actively combining parts of her old and new sound into a synergistic force. The frazzled, cheeky shake of “Loneliest Soul” mellowed out into a stoned, bluesy jam that the band teased further and further into psychedelic territory. The singer hypnotized the crowd, curving her hips and stomach to the sensuous trance, eventually channeling the wormhole splendor of Grace Slick and Jefferson Airplane with an interpolation of “Somebody to Love.” Faces were melted and synapses were burned and the singer continued to push full throttle toward the horizon, not satisfied utill she had given everything she had.
“Delirious” closed the set in soaring fashion, Potter and company riding their delirium to a climatic wall of sound that disappeared into silence in one note as if the song had found its logical end at the bottom of a canyon. The crowd was not satiated, though, and drowned the hall in cheers for more. Genuinely touched, the Vermont-native (who gave a shout-out to some fellow Vermonters in the crowd) came back out for monstrous encore of “Stop The Bus,” “Stars,” “The Lion The Beast The Beat,” “Instigators,” and “Paris (Ooh La La),” which ultimately culminated in a full-band, rhythmic assault on the drum kit. In the truest sense of the word, it was an awesome concert experience that left people having to figure a way to put themselves back together after she dismantled them in the name of music.
Grace Potter can sing with the power of a lion, scorch the neck of a guitar, dance like a vixen and slay people with the sound coming out her speakers. She is the essence of rock and roll, she is the epitome of feeling alive and she’s a natural who will only grow larger over the years. During the encore, she recognized that striking out on her own with a new sound might lead some people to believe that she is changing, although she assured people she was still the same girl. But she’s not. Grace Potter has become a force of nature who is better than she’s ever been.
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