I was thoroughly prepared to do a write up of Lady Antebellum’s new album Own the Night, which hit stores yesterday. Anyone who knows me knows that Lady A can do no wrong in my eyes, and I couldn’t wait to review their new CD. Well that will have to wait until next week, because on Sunday I experienced one of the best live music experiences of my life: Grace Potter and the Nocturnals at The Ryman Auditorium.
I know, “best live music experiences of my life” is a steep order. I have seen hundreds of live performances and dozens of awesome mainstream concerts – all of which have been great – but there was something so wonderfully different about this one, I found myself literally laughing with enjoyment throughout a large part of the show.
Now, I only became a Grace fan this year, but I immediately fell in love with their music. Normally I am a lyric-driven song fan; but with this I found myself not caring what she is saying because she sings it – and the Nocturnals play it – so well. Apparently Nashville is catching on to the band as well, because Sunday night’s show sold out so quickly they added another on Monday.
Aside from being strikingly beautiful, Grace has a very unique, soulful, almost-raspy, yet flawless voice. The Nocturnals are comprised of highly energetic and talented musicians who create a sound enviable in today’s popular music. They feature Scott Tournet on lead guitar, drummer Matt Burr, and have recently been joined by bassist Catherine Popper and rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco.
I was a fan just listening to the album, but it rocketed to a stratospheric level after seeing them live. Grace is a multi-instrumentalist, and one helluva performer. She dances around in high heels (a feat I can’t say I’ve attempted, but can only imagine the difficulty) as though she is lost in the moment and the music, and thoroughly enjoying herself – a quality that only makes the audience respond by smiling and dancing with her.
Many people know my favorite part of any show is when the lights go down right beforehand. This was no different, as the acoustics in The Ryman amplified the monstrous cheer that arose from the crowd. For the opening, Grace came out by herself first, in a misty silhouetted ambiance. With nothing more than her and a guitar, she sang the first part of Nothing But the Water. When the Nocturnals came out to pick up Part II, the excitement buildup broke, and the atmosphere was electric.
Grace quickly ditched the guitar and danced her way over to her keyboard to play. Before long she had picked up a tambourine, making it three instruments in the first several minutes.
Keeping the mood upbeat, they transitioned into Only Love, showing off Grace’s power and distinguishably talented vocals. They then moved to mid-tempo with the jazzy-pop-rock That Phone, which is the ultimate clap-along song. Staying mid-tempo and with the third straight song from the newest self-titled album, they segued into Goodbye Kiss. Slowing things down, they moved to the bluesy number Treat Me Right, followed by the popular and breathtakingly beautiful Apologies.
There was one song that I knew would be a crowd pleaser with a jam session ending, and this was next on the set list: Tiny Light. The song starts out a typical mid-tempo Grace song, but ended with a good five minutes of Grace and the band absolutely rocking out, forcing whoever was left sitting to stand up to jam along.
This was a great segue into the acoustic part of the show, featuring just Grace, Benny and Scott, all with acoustic guitars. She started with Ragged Company, which was so emotionally beautiful I couldn’t help but be moved as I stared in awe as Grace got lost in the song.
After a couple off-color jokes (making me fall deeper in love with her), Grace stayed on the acoustic playing Big White Gate in honor of her grandmother.
The band came out and picked it up again with Sweet Hands. By the time Grace, Benny and Scott walked in front of the amps to rock out, everyone was already jumping and partying with them. Keeping everyone excited, they transitioned into Ah Mary, Hot Summer Night, and Stop the Bus, all with intense showmanship and energy.
The encore kicked off with Grace throwing of her shoes, and covering the ZZ Top classic Tush. Seriously, seeing her with no shoes on, jamming out on her Flying V to ZZ Top was one of the sexiest things I’ve ever seen.
She then transitioned into requests taken via social media. This was a noble idea, but everyone knew these would be the songs she couldn’t leave without playing anyway. Still, she started with You and Tequila, the song that gave her clout in the country genre by teaming up with Kenny Chesney. She shared the lead with Scott, who did the song enough justice to make it incredibly enjoyable. I honestly could have called Chesney being there… but he wasn’t. A point Grace made before the song started.
And although she made the same point the following night (the night I didn’t go)… Chesney DID show up. So did Matraca Berg, who helped pen the song. Damnit!
Anyway, after asking if anyone hadn’t heard everything they wanted yet, she played the obvious new smash single: Paris (Ooh La La). Keeping with the theme of the entire night, the live version only extended the greatness of the song.
The show ended with Medicine, a song I enjoy, but wouldn’t have thought it would be a high-energy way to end a show… boy was I wrong! In the middle of the song, the entire band grabbed a drumstick or two and launched into a drum breakdown all on the same drum kit. This was so cool I started dancing like a moron, but had to stop when they really went nuts just to watch and giggle like a little schoolgirl because I was having so much fun. They ended with Grace dancing around, the lights going crazy, the guitars shredding, and the crowd in a continuous standing ovation. I just kept smiling and hugging the girl who gave me her extra ticket at the last minute.
All I can say is, this is the reason I write about music. I have never been so present and had so much fun at a live show before. Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are a force to be reckoned with, and their newest self-titled album is their best yet. Understandable, as it was produced by Mark Batson, who has produced Dr. Dre, Eminem, Jay-Z and Dave Matthews Band. A random collection of artists sure, but brilliance nonetheless, and four of my personal favorites.
Grace called the new album “a stylistic epiphany,” adding, “In my mind, an album shouldn’t be self-titled unless it feels that way.”
If the album is a representation of an enlightenment of the band, their live show is nothing short of a musical renaissance. Next time Grace and the Nocturnals make an appearance in Nashville it will garner more than a two-night stint at the Ryman. I just hope I can get tickets.