Photo & Story by Scott A. Smith
Charging the stage and executing one of the most riveting, best-sounding sets to be heard and felt, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals opened their summer 2013 tour on May 30 at Neumeier’s Rib Room & Beer Garden in Fort Smith, Ark.
There’s no doubt that Vermont-born quintet is one of the most gifted bands today, equaling peer Gary Clark Jr. and even surpassing the solid Black Keys. If there was a naysayer in the audience in Fort Smith, he or she surely cruised home with tail firmly tucked between the legs. Potter and her band sizzled under spinning, multi-colored lights as the evening’s cool breeze continually swept through the open-air venue.
Seizing the stage at 9 p.m., the group raced into “Never Go Back,” “Timekeeper” and “Runaway,” with Potter’s urgent voice and aggressive guitar work — no one looks better whacking away at a Gibson Flying V guitar — running perfectly parallel with the razor-sharp musicianship of guitarists Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco. Surrounded by microphone stands and floor monitors, left-handed bassist Michael Libramento ground out hot, slinky grooves, while Matthew Burr donned biker sunglasses while thumping on wood-rimmed drums.
Potter showed that she’s an extremely gifted front-woman, bouncing between guitar, piano, tambourine and what might be her greatest musical weapon, a Hammond B3 organ. Standing in front of a fast-spinning Leslie speaker cabinet, Potter’s fingers tapped and pounded the organ’s keys as she tossed her long blond hair from shoulder to shoulder.
The sweeping, radio-friendly “Stars” appeared early in the set, giving another platform for Potter’s one-of-a-kind voice. Potter, thankfully, doesn’t ape Janis Joplin’s voice, but instead has her own way of sounding defiant, pleading and all of the emotions in between.
As outstanding as the Nocturnals’ records are — 2012’s “The Lion The Beast The Beat” and 2010’s “Grace Potter & The Nocturnals” are gotta-have titles — the group is event more potent in person. They’re all multi-instrumentalists who give 200 percent in concert, and their work is never derivative or purpose-free.
These winning traits simultaneously make Grace Potter’s concerts an artistic triumph and the ideal way to blow off those nasty, office-stress blues. Oh, and $100 says you’ll still be singing, “She’s got the medicine that everybody wants” hours and hours after catching the band live in concert.