State of Grace
Contributing Writer- Garret K. Woodward [TheRFW.com/blog/Garret]
Over the course of the last six years, I have bared witness, for good or ill, to the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals- a band of innocence wrapped cozily within strands of talent stretching the ends of the world.
Though the purity of their intent may remain untouched in their minds, it’s being altered and exploited by greedy hands. The fact remains the rock group is no longer what we once cheered- it is now a gilded shell of its former self, a pop entity carefully maneuvered to appeal to anyone with a sexual impulse and diluted ear for legitimate music.
Ms. Potter is no longer the “aw shucks” girl next door, now a sex symbol to be reckoned with- a glossy playmate who distracts from her own musical gifts with orgasmic onstage squeals and miniskirts which could upend with the slightest unforeseen breath of air.
Although the recent album left me with a bad taste in my mouth, I still gave the ensemble the benefit of the doubt and tracked them down on May 28th at the Port City Music Hall in Portland, Maine.
It was a carbon-copy performance compared to those last year when Catherine Popper (bass) and Benny Yurco (guitar) initially joined. Granted the tone is a tad more aggressive, but the tunes are lackluster and uninteresting. The quintet, at times, felt as if it were going through the motions. Then, a spurt of wrist-slicing guitar hooks from Scott Tournet and Yurco would suddenly rears its head and excite my soul. Soon, a glass-shattering howl from Potter would send chills up my spine not felt since their Paradise Rock Club days.
But, just when those numbers would grab your ears (“Medicine”, “Some Kind of Ride”), subsequent offerings (“One Short Night”, “Tiny Light”) would immediately deflate your inner urges. Knowing damn well their capabilities from years of following their rise, I was left puzzled and at times jaded.
Maybe it was tapping my toes to opener (and side project) Blues & Lasers that muddled my thoughts. The blues-rock machine has tainted my once cheerleading-like ways towards Potter. It was a feeling similar to my first encounter with the cartoon Family Guy- suddenly The Simpson’s weren’t as funny anymore.
Though Portland justified there is something still embedded beneath the group worth pursuing (fingers crossed the next album brushes the current record under the rug), the June 8th Burlington, Vermont homecoming performance on Church Street left one in a dizzying state of confusion.
The manic, overzealous New England crowd pig-piled onto each other for a glimpse of “a real starlet from our own backyard”. Middle-aged fathers, pushing baby strollers, kept looking for loose change in their pockets while Potter strutted her sex across the stage. Overzealous mothers elbowed their way to the front in search of photographs to post on Facebook or as a reference point for their next haircut. Her voice, muffled at times, echoed down the street like the national anthem at a high school hockey game.
It was a sickening, chaotic scene, but the music industry is a tricky, unforgiving bitch.
How do you balance dignity with being able to pay your bills? How do you produce the melodies floating through you head, but also please the executives footing the process? How do you pursue your every desired dream, yet adhere to a nonstop schedule and being pulled in every direction by those either wanting to be near you or wanting to push you as far away from them as possible?
The line is hard, if not impossible, to straddle without falling off into the abyss of career success or career blunder?
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals – Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Taking a scene directly out of Almost Famous, the cover of the latest Nocturnals creation has Potter as the obvious focal point. The other band members are out of focus, blurry, and pushed to the background.
The Gwen Stefani syndrome has finally taken hold.
I had high hopes for Grace and the crew. Venturing out west to seek fame and fortune, it seems the glitz and glam has brainwashed the group of their real aptitude: playing rock-n-fuckin’-roll.
Lead guitarist Scott Tournet is almost nonexistent throughout the entire record. With never-ending potential, the six-string ace comes off more like a hired studio musician going through the motions (the same goes for rhythm guitarist Benny Yurco and drummer Matt Burr). His craft is greatly suffocated in exchange for a we’re-trying-too-hard-for-radio-friendly-hooks approach. If it weren’t for their side project, Blues & Lasers, I’d say Tournet, Yurco and Burr were a waste of raw talent.
“Paris (Ooh La La)” (aka “If I Was From Paris” – a recycled bonus track from their last studio effort), though notable when played live, has bubblegum written all over it. Annoying backup vocals, chintzy doubletracking, and a feel reminiscent of Josie and the Pussycats, the tune is now reduced to the next single plastered all over whatever teenybopper drama Disney (who owns Hollywood Records, where the quintet sits alongside labelmates Miley Cyrus and the Jonas Brothers) forces them onto.
Eerily similar to any previous Potter ballad, “Tiny Light” (which includes the only guitar section worth mentioning, though you have to painstakingly dig through the entire melody to hear it) and “Things I Never Needed” exhibit no progress in a band whose stagnation was thought to have left with ex-bassist Bryan Dondero (his replacement, Catherine Popper, is barely noticeable throughout).
The subsequent songs don’t fair much better.
There’s a frisky Potter squeal here and there, but each number sounds forced, with not one selection holding your attention for another spin. The sound is hollow and, at times, repetitive. It seems the only saving grace is “Medicine”– a meaty number, but one that could be taken as cheesy when placed in context of the entire album.
The phrase “personal sabotage” comes to mind.
It’s a damn shame the band has apparently traded their signature organic blend of soul for the cliché of rock stardom. At one time they hinted at a winning formula- a secret formula that the woman with incredible pipes traded in for high heels, sequin miniskirts and, frankly, terrible songs.
Honestly, the whole thing tends to make a mockery of any previous endeavors or accolades. But, as they say, having a gift from God is one thing, knowing how to properly use that gift is a whole other ballgame. One can only hope this is just a bump on a long and hopefully bountiful road for the Vermont darlings. And one can also hope that this is the record that gets the bullshit out of their collective system, that they can come back reinvigorated- ready to actually make music that’s worth listening to.
In the words of Jeff Bebe of Stillwater, “And let me say what nobody else wants to say: your looks have become a problem!”