This time, it’s not the same Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. The group that took the stage headlining the House of Blues last Friday night isn’t the same band that played BU Central as recently as 2006 or the one that was grinding through the club circuit in 2008. These days, the band is an amalgamation of styles and experiences that finally has the songwriting swagger to back up their formidable live show, as was evidenced in full force Friday night.
Playing in the closest city to the group’s headquarters in Vermont, the Nocturnals opened with “Only Love,” the first of many tracks the band played off its upcoming self-titled release, its third, out June 8 on Hollywood Records.
From the first notes, a number of differences became immediately apparent, particularly the new additions to the group. After the departure of original bassist Bryan Dondero in early 2009, the Nocturnals reloaded with new bassist Catherine Popper and expanded into a five-piece by adding rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco, who had previously worked with lead guitarist Scott Tournet and drummer Matt Burr in their side project Blues and Lasers.
With the new lineup complete, the group has set out to find a distinctive sound, and the new tracks are as wide-ranging as they are powerful, particularly in a live setting. After scorching through a funky version of “Sweet Hands,” Potter and the band showed their reggae chops on new song “Goodbye Kiss,” which features Tournet on wistful harmonica.
The song manages to simultaneously venture outside the group’s usual folk-blues-rock ‘n’ roll wheelhouse with new instruments and a fresh take on something that could have just been another ballad, while still maintaining Potter’s distinctive flair.
A masterful version of “Ah Mary” from its 2007 album This is Somewhere came next, followed by a roundup of other new album tracks such as “Oasis” and the countryside ramble of “One Short Night.” Many of the new songs feature Popper on backup vocals; she strengthens and almost doubles Potter’s voice. Popper’s presence on stage allowed the band to delve into these harmonies when they would have otherwise been left to the studio version.
Yet it’s Potter’s vocals and stage presence that keep the jaws dropping, and a slow, drawn out version of “2:22” showcased Potter at her absolute crooning best, controlling the heavy blues with her passionate vocals and swelling organ before Tournet tore it all apart with his guitar work. And Potter was again on display as she sat at her organ and delivered achingly well-written ballads “Apologies” and “Big White Gate,” the latter a powerful song that Potter began with an extended organ intro.
The Nocturnals powered through “Paris,” the album opener, which Potter described as her attempt to be Iggy Pop, before bringing their set to a close with their “Nothing But The Water” tour-de-force, which starts as a gospel-tinged prayer and evolves into a blues-rock swirl before landing back at its a capella beginning.
As is often the case with great live bands, the encore was the culmination of the evening, as the band tore through Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” and broke it down for a full-band percussion jam in the middle of “Stop The Bus,” a staple gimmick from the group.
The highlight of the night came during the last song, “Medicine,” a sexy rocker from the new album that the band seemed to really enjoy. With smiles on every face in the crowd and on stage, the attitude that Grace Potter and the Nocturnals brings to each show is infectious &- a great band having a great time doing what they love. The continued evolution of this group is one thing to keep an eye on in the coming years, starting with the release of this upcoming album.
Self-titled album Grace Potter and the Nocturnals will be released June 8 on Hollywood Records.