Grace Potter and the Nocturnals with Langhorne Slim | 01.10.13

gracepotter sqA banjo equals instantaneous happiness.


The Pageant, St. Louis

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Photos by Abby Gillardi

Misty rain and cold were no deterrent to fans of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and opening act Langhorne Slim. Doors didn’t open until 7 p.m., but by 5:30, Halo Bar was full and the line in front of the door was 50 people deep. Getting a good seat at this sold-out show was obviously something for which fans were willing to put up with a little discomfort. By the end of the evening, I understood why.

I pretty much think Langhorne Slim can do no wrong. He’s got that gorgeous plaintive wail, intelligent lyrics, and energy for days, and beside him stands one hell of a banjo player, David Moore. I love it how whenever a banjo gets pulled out, you hear murmurings of approval from an audience. A banjo equals instantaneous happiness.

The 2012 LP The Way We Move is, in my opinion, Slim’s finest work yet. There’s a touch of wildness, weariness, wanderlust, and whimsy to these songs that appeals to me greatly. His live show, the first I’ve seen, did not disappoint in any way. It was a blend of high-energy, toe-tapping fun with just the right amount of thoughtful ballads thrown in the mix, including one of his newer songs “Salvation.” Before starting into it, he encouraged the crowd to sing along: “If you don’t know the words, make up some shit. We cordially invite you.”

Langhorne Slim is a man in constant motion. With the exception of a couple of moments where he sat at the edge of the stage, he was bouncing, stomping his boots, swinging around, shaking his hips and even dropped to the floor for a few pushups, at one point. He finished up his set with “Past Lives” from the new album, encouraging the audience again to sing along with the repeating line, “I ain’t dead.” He makes the kind of music that makes you glad for that and happy just to be alive.

So to be honest, I was there to see Langhorne Slim and really knew very little about Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. I don’t live under a rock, so I had heard of the band numerous times; I just never really took the time to listen. Prior to the concert, I perused her albums and recognized quite a few things. I most enjoyed her debut, Nothing but the Water, and many of the tracks off the new LP, The Lion the Beast the Beat, especially the ones Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys had a hand in creating.

What I don’t love about Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are the more “poppy” songs like the tune she opened the set with, “Paris (Ooh La La).” That song makes me roll my eyes so far back into my head, I can see my frontal cortex, so I was a little worried through the first few songs of the set. However, it only takes five seconds to figure out that this band gives “showmanship” a whole new level to aspire to, and as soon as her songs started to turn more toward that ’70s, bluesy influence, she began winning me over in a huge way.

About five minutes before Potter launched into a cover of “White Rabbit,” I had written in my notes “very Jefferson Airplane.” It sealed the deal for me. I may not like everything she does but, by God, Grace Potter can sing the shit out of some Jefferson Airplane. I had those kinds of chills that creep up the back of your neck into the base of your skull. Through most of the rest of the set, she showcased that same sensibility in her own work. In “Medicine,” she sings, “She got the medicine that everybody wants.” Yes ma’am, yes you do, especially when that pop element gets smacked around by a more rock ’n’ roll sensibility. I couldn’t stand that song on the album, but performed live and roughed up a little? It was magnificent.

Potter reminded me of someone else during her performance: ’80s rocker Lita Ford. Obviously, she’s blonde and clad in leather pants, but qualities of her voice were there, too. Then she clinched it when, at one point in the evening, she took a short break while the band kept playing, disrobed partially, and then returned to the stage via her hands and knees. Now what’s more Lita Ford than crawling around the stage like a jungle cat and rolling around on the floor with your bandmates for a bit? I guess a heavy blues riff will do that to a gal.

Those bandmates are something else, too. Drummer Matt Burr may very well be Animal come to life; if not, he’s certainly worthy of his own Muppet character. He’s an animal of a drummer and such fun to watch. Really, all of the Nocturnals are a blast to watch perform. Most fun of all was watching birthday boy guitarist Benny Yurco just completely transfix the entire room with the extended guitar solo-opening of Heart’s “Crazy on You” as the beginning song of their encore.

You win, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals. I’m yours. | Janet Rhoads

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