Grace Potter & Brett Dennen | 11.20

Words by: Alex Neif | Images by: Allison Murphy

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals & Brett Dennen :: 11.20.09 :: Terminal 5 :: New York, NY

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals :: 11.20
Though it should be, it's not every night that you walk into Terminal 5 and are greeted by two women offering free Cabot cheddar. It was enough to make a Burlington boy feel right at home (despite having just passed through the Terminal 5 security gauntlet, which is akin to a shakedown by the Mossad). From the free cheese to the bustling merch table (it should be noted that the GPN merch table was operated by the friendliest tour staff I've ever met) fans were noticeably relaxed and in high spirits even before entering the main room.

The show was billed as Grace Potter and the Nocturnals co-headlining with Brett Dennen with Sean Bones as support.

Bones kicked off the show with a short set of white-man's reggae that had the distinct sound of a college party band, though that's not to say that Bones (Sean Sullivan) is without his positive musical attributes. Bones exudes energy and confidence onstage despite the fact that he and his band have a long way to go in terms of perfecting their sound, which on this night was a bit loosey-goosey. I would still say that this band is worth keeping an eye on.

As Sean Bones exited the stage, the floor began to reach capacity in anticipation of the first of the two headlining acts. After a brief interlude, Dennen hit the stage characteristically unshod and understated. He proceeded to lead the audience through an inspired set of infectious folk-pop that is distinctly his own. Dennen's songwriting and performance style have earned him respect from both the music industry establishment and Madison Avenue (an important ally in the evolving industry). In short measure, Dennen has gone from total obscurity to the "artist to look out for" to the "artist that you don't know you know," though that is rapidly changing. Recently, no less than Carson Daly invited Dennen to fill his entire hour-long late night show with the premier of a recently taped coffee house performance in L.A. Dennen has earned himself a place amongst a select few singer-songwriter superstars such as John Mayer, Jack Johnson, and Jason Mraz. In this small fraternity, Dennen stands out in almost every way. Unlike the others, who found success by expanding on the industry niche carved out by Dave Matthews in the early nineties, Dennen's accomplishments were achieved mostly on spec, as there was really nothing to compare him to.

Brett Dennen :: 11.20
At this set, Dennen never stopped shaking his hips from the first note to the last. Dennen is a natural when it comes to putting an audience at ease and giving them the impression that they are not at a sold out concert but rather sitting in on an inspired jam session; the 3,000+ fans present that casually bobbed their heads and smiled while sipping their beers evidenced this. Perhaps the most important part of any live show is to bring the right energy to the music, and in Dennen's case, he quite organically melds the context with the content and the two begin to seem inseparable. Catch Dennen making his way across the Midwest in late-November/early December. For those on the West Coast, the band will be grooving their way down the coast with a New Year's Eve extravaganza at the Fox Theater in Oakland with friends ALO and SambaDa supporting. Complete Brett Dennen tour dates available here.

What can you say about Grace Potter that hasn't already been said a thousand times on the pages of magazines and fan sites? You couldn't say that she is an enormously talented multi-instrumentalist with one foot solidly in the world of traditional song crafting and another in the ethereal abyss of jamspace (been said). Nor could you say she has Joan Jett's attitude with Linda Ronstadt's voice in Tina Turner's dress (covered). But after her recent performance at Terminal 5, what you could say about Potter is that everything that has been said about her is true. This goes for the band as well. 2009 has been a period of growth and change for GPN. Early this year the band saw the departure of founding bassist Brian Dondero, who was replaced with former Ryan Adams bassist Catherine Popper. The band also announced the addition of a fifth Nocturnal, Benny Yurco (Blues and Lasers). Yurco's rhythm guitar provides well balanced accompaniment to Scott Tournet's lead and gives the band a larger sound, which compliments their musical range.

Grace Potter :: 11.20
The band walked onstage and set it ablaze with "Some Kind of Ride" from their 2005 release Nothing But The Water. The energy level of the band and audience was electric. Potter then switched out her guitar and hopped on the B3 for the bluesy "Medicine," the title track to their forthcoming new release. Potter continued to jump around the stage, moving from keys to guitar to tambourine to straight ass shaking when the moment called for it. And the audience was locked in.

When things slowed down a bit for the heartfelt "Apologies," the audience swayed and listened attentively to the deeply personal lyrics. "Apologies" is a beautiful, brokenhearted love song that no doubt stems from a very real relationship (no one can sing like that to some contrived industry love song). In what was perhaps the most adept transition of the show, the band followed with "Oasis," perhaps the best showcase of every band member's talents. On drums, Matthew Burr bounced around like a mustachioed Muppet, forming an airtight groove with Popper, while Tournet played beautiful psychedelic-blues solos over Yurco's rich rhythm and Potter wailed like an angry siren.

The band encored with a chilling cover of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit" and the title track from Nothing But The Water. After the show, the energy poured out onto the streets of Hell's Kitchen as a few thousand elated fans made their way to their respective subway stations.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals have come of age, and they are without a doubt one of the very best American touring acts today. They broke big with their original lineup and limited experience. Now it seems that they have isolated the factors that lead to their early successes and refined them, while making changes where needed. When Medicine is released early next year, GPN is primed to explode.

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals Setlist
Some Kind of Ride, Medicine, Mastermind, Tiny Light, Apologies, Oasis, Things I Never Needed, Ah Mary, Big White Gate, Paris, Sweet Hands
E: White Rabbit, Nothing But the Water

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are on tour now; dates available here.

Continue reading for more pics of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals in NYC...

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