Grace Potter & The Nocturnals came into Toad's Place on Wednesday night and made believers out of all who saw them. They opened with 'Mastermind', the same song they opened with when I saw them at the All Good Festival last year, but they stretched this one out the slower passages a little more this time.
The band really clicked in for the first time on the third song of the night "Treat Me Right" (note: song titles or placement in the set may be off a little as I couldn't find a set list online so I'm going off of memory). Grace left the organ, showing off her tight white jeans and AC/DC 'Back In Black' t-shirt, strapped on the guitar and built the midsection of the song up into a blazing crescendo led by Scott Tournet on lead guitar. Scott plays a great bottleneck slide and is one of those guitarists (ala Mike Campbell of the Hearbreakers) who really looks to serve the song. He's not jumping out front to do a flashy solo but when its time to open up, he comes in rocking. The rhythm section of Bryan Dondero (bass) and Matt Burr (drums) provided the bedrock all night. Our vantage point ten feet in front of Matt (he was positioned front right of stage) gave us a great glimpse of him pounding the skins hard all night.
Grace showed off the elegant side of her voice when she took center stage for the acappella "Nothing But The Water Part 1". The crowd fell silent as she carried us through the gospel lyrics, feeling her way through the words with eyes closed in concentration and tapping out the rhythm on her tambourine. That led right into "Nothing But The Water Part 2" (natch) which led into a full band drum solo(?) with each band taking a part of the drum kit. Very cool to watch them interact with each other on that.
Grace can belt out the rockin' blues better than anyone but the highlight for me came on two slower tracks. The first was the country blues of "Big White Gate", in which the protagonist asks St. Peter to open up the gates of heaven for her because even though she was a "no good mother" and a "no good wife" she knows that all the "folks up in Heaven might like to hear me sing". Grace sang this one with a world weariness that belied her young age and Grace certainly made a case for herself to St. Peter. The next tune was a song made famous by Otis Redding, The Stones and The Dead, "Pain In My Heart". Grace and the band showed that they could give an old R&B number all the emotion and nuance it needed and made the song their own.
Next up was a surprise, The Who classic, "Gettin' In Tune", one of my favorite Who songs. They made the verses just a little slower and drawn out then the original, through the use of Grace's organ and blues drawl, to great effect, enough to put their own stamp on the song. When it came time to bang out the chorus, the whole band whipped it up, with Matt really banging on the drums in his best Keith Moon imitation.
Finally, for the encore, the funked through a version of "If I Was From Paris", which has grown funkier since I saw them play this last year at All Good. The crowd boogied down and sang along with the "ooh la la and la la la la"s. I can't wait until Grace and the Nocturnals get back to Richmond. They are definitely a band to watch.
Since it was a weeknight and we have babies in the house, I was unfortunately unable to stay for the Benevento-Russo Duo. I hope to catch them some other time. I did get into Toad's in time for the last song from the opener, The Atkinsons. Though they play mostly originals, the last song of the set was an all-time favorite of mine from The Waterboys, the title track from their album "Fisherman's Blues". When that album came out in 1988, I played the hell out of it and I played something from it on my college radio show every week for about a year. The Atkinsons really nailed it, especially Mike Ferry on the fiddle. You can catch the Atkinsons next at the St. Patrick's Church Irish Festival in Church Hill which takes place this year on March 29-30. More on that festival here in the blog the week before.