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Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at Culture Room, March 5

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Culture Room, Fort Lauderdale
March 5, 2011

Better than: A Saturday night surrounded by midlife morons. Wishful thinking, I guess.

Remember Grace Potter before the bleached-blond mane and sequin get-ups? Neither do I. The raw, uncut version of Potter circa 2006 roared on through for bits and pieces of Saturday night's set, which clocked in at less than two hours short. 

I haven't seen a crowd of 40-somethings at Culture Room since Trombone Shorty blew past a few months back, and I certainly didn't miss 'em. Blubbering date-night fools who slug down multiple double rum and Cokes complaining that there's no standing room at a sold-out show should probably stay home. In fact, they definitely should -- no disrespect to the Gov't Mulers and Deadheads who showed up in support. After a mediocre teaser by Jonathan Tyler and the Northern Lights, a 30-minute set break was far too painful to endure surrounded by such stiffies.

Finally, Grace P and the N's took the stage around 10:30 p.m., the diva herself clad in a glistening black-and-white onesy, bassist Catherine Popper strutting in platforms, a black sequined get-up, and that same big-banged locks Potter wears, only in brunette. Set opener "Hot Summer Night" kicked the show into gear, but it was "Ah Mary" that introduced us to grunge-folk storytelling, as Potter's vocals slowly and seductively echoed through to the upstairs bar, drummer Matt Burr bidding for some attention.
Finally, the show picked up some steam during "Mastermind," a feel-good jam Potter taking to her organ mother ship, the old wooden box igniting with the tantalizing tap of Potter's  fingertips, while Scott Tournet (lead) and Benny Yurco (rhythm) battled it out on guitar. It took till song three to catch that full ensemble feel, which was slow and steady throughout. "That Phone" was dressed in a mainstream bassline, Potter borrowing some pop flavor from the likes of Sheryl Crow. "Goodbye Kiss" dripped that country twang, Tournet's moaning harmonica matching the yearning whine of Potter's resounding keys.
"Sweet Hands" closed out the first portion of the show, the high-energy palpable, finally exceeding four minutes in time. The honky-tonk jam invited a call-and-response from Grace to the audience, one eager front-rower trying to pull Potter down from her pedestal. She answered with a belted "Hell no," as she reprimanded her microphone; it was about time we saw that raucous behavior, adding to it was Popper's funkily plucked bass, which attached to Burr's drumming to round out the weighted, temporary high.
Potter fan favorite "Apologies" was next, a ballad longing for its own live chorus, but life dissipated from the room, whether it was out of respect or boredom, we might never know. What was to be a show memory was nothing brag-worthy. Potter might as well have pushed "play" on the studio track. This was a personal heartbreak. What perked ears back up was the spooky segue that might've momentarily been mistaken for a Mars Volta jam, loud, lost, creepy, and provocative, the transition into "2:22" was a show highlight. The haunting blues channeled Lady Janis, Potter abducted by the delivery as she whipped her tresses, wailing and gyrating, luring all in her path. It was clear Potter was high on her own brand, but the occasional moonshine swig would've added some killer character to her "Little Miss Perfect" act.
The dark, chilling monsoon of a segment quickly lost its thunder, and I wondered why on Earth Potter got unplugged for her acoustic showcase after such a blazing inferno. "One Short Night" I could have done without, and Kenny Chesney tribute "You and Tequila" was unimpressive but reminded me it was time to re-up on my own cocktail and indulge in a cigarette break.
My ears eavesdropped through "Some Kind of Ride," my eyes glimpsed Potter's hands reach for the sky during "Tiny Light," but what got me back to the floor was an eerie sample that flashed me back to high school, a quick serving of Portishead's "Glory Box," where Potter groaned and purred "I just want to be a woman." The nostalgic tune was cut short as Burr set up the drop-in for "White Rabbit," a Potter signature cover (Jefferson Airplane), humming the sinister number, though she's a bit too angelic to carry its full fright.
Recent single "Paris (Ooh La La)" once again brought us back into the light, but unthankfully, that's not quite where we wanted to be. The poppy, fun sing-songy tune was an abrupt shipment out of the underworld we kept finding ourselves enjoying so much. Perhaps it's the versatility of her show that keeps it interesting, but Potter's people-pleaser antics added a roll to my eyes.
The encore was the peak of the show, Potter bathing in her own a cappella spotlight during "Nothing but the Water," urging everyone to sip her sweet water and join the Church of Grace, as she shook her tambourine. Soon, the Nocturnals fell prisoner to Potter, who crashed the organs for an all-out revival, and the band hit the high point of the night during this power-pumped gospel get-down. Closing out with "Medicine," Potter and her gang gathered around Burr's drum kit, banging like an after-school car pool on a candy run. The short-lived sugar rush made me wonder where the hell this energy was all night, bitterly in search of it throughout. Like a half-assed round of foreplay that ultimately picks up at the climax, Potter fooled us all. She claim's she's "got the medicine that everybody wants," but her apothecary got the memo just a few hours too late.

Set List:

Hot Summer Night
Ah Mary
That Phone
Goodbye Kiss
Sweet Hands
One Short Night
You and Tequila (Kenny Chesney cover)
Here's to the Meantime
Some Kind of Ride
Tiny Light
Glory Box (Portishead cover)
White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane cover)
Paris (Ooh La La)

Nothing but the Water I
Nothing but the Water II

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Tracy Block

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