Crystal Bay Ballroom, North Lake Tahoe
August 12, 2016
All photos by Paul Piazza.
Grace Potter hit the stage at North Lake Tahoe’s Crystal Bay Ballroom with a dizzying display of energy last weekend. The singer, who hadn’t played the club since June of 2013, let it all hang out on the stage during a steamy two hour-plus set for a sold-out Friday night crowd at the club.
Located in the Crystal Bay Casino, which is just across the state border, Crystal Bay’s Crown Room is an intimate setting (800 capacity) with great acoustics that hosts many shows to artists who outsize the venue. That was certainly the case with Potter, who would play the Mountain Winery in Saratoga the next night which is almost three times as big, and then a week later, Red Rocks in Colorado, which seats closer to 10,000. Not that venue size matters. No matter where, Potter seems to go BIG. On this night, she went HUGE. She rocked that room like it was Madison Square Garden.
Prince’s immortal intro to “Let’s Go Crazy” announced Potter’s entrance. The packed crowd surged toward her and she didn’t hesitate before she wound up and threw everything at them in a fierce set that surpassed two hours and included two separate encores. It was obvious from the onset of this show that there was a forecast of drenched clothes for fans in the tightly packed house who tried to keep up with Potter’s relentless dancing and head-shaking.
Potter, who had been touring with the Nocturnals since 2002, has been out on her own since she released her solo album “Midnight” last year. The album, which NPR considered a “kick in the pants for pop rock,” has stretched Potter’s artistic boundaries. Overall, the setlist was a nearly even split between Nocturnals and solo material. Benny Yurco was the only Nocturnal on the road with her. The rest of her band were a hotshot collective of musicians, including bassist Tim Deaux (The Whigs) and Matt Musty, a sharp session drummer who resides in Nashville.
Between each song she exhorted the crowd, shared anecdotes from the road and seemed to never stop dancing. She told a story about finding a good swimming hole by the river with the band that day, but being afraid to jump off a high rock. She thanked a nine-year old who showed her and the band that it was no big deal. They all followed his lead and made a splash. Then, characteristic of this night, Potter dove headfirst back into the high-energy set. Potter bounced between dancing, spinning, and shaking her head all over the stage to playing the organ, an acoustic guitar, and her ever-present Gibson flying V. The big guitar has become such an instrumental part of her presence that Gibson created a custom Grace Potter Flying V in 2013.
After throwing down some dirty slide work on the flying V during the big “Nothing But the Water,” Potter turned it around and finished the first set with the Nocturnals’ danceable “Turntable. Then she upped the ante with a pair of “Midnight” cuts – “Alive Tonight,” a strong number that showcases her vocal strengths and philosophy, and “Delirious,” a slick, punchy number which wouldn’t be out of place on a Madonna album if it were produced by Nile Rogers. This was not surprising, since many of Potter’s new tunes are inspired by what she grew up listening to in the 80’s – Madonna, Cyndi Lauper, David Bowie – and those influences shined through.
After an encore that kept the energy going with “Stop the Bus,” “Stars,” “Instigators,” and the big number “Paris,” the band briefly left the stage and then returned for a second encore that paid homage to Potter’s heroes. She led a big sing along to Prince’s “When Doves cCy” and then she did a remarkable cover of David Bowie’s “As the World Falls Down.” It was quite the night from this fearless performer. One could tell how it went over just by gazing at the smiling, sweaty faces as they exited the Casino into the Tahoe night.
Speaking of huge, another bonus on this night was that the show openers were San Francisco rising stars Con Brio. The soulful septet has had a busy summer taking them to such far-flung places as Montreal’s Jazz Fest, Tokyo’s Fuji Rock, and, most recently, to both Lollapalooza and Outside Lands. These guys are on a roll.
“Touring has been sooo many essential things,” said vocalist Ezekiel McCarter after the show. “We’ve grown so much collectively as well as individually and to do that while connecting with so many beautiful people from different walks of life is truly a blessing. We’re proud.”
Con Brio looked at ease as they blasted through a set with mostly new music. They were tight, efficient and had a great sound. However, they were a little cramped in front of Potter’s equipment and didn’t quite have the space to do their normally high-energy stage set. While they were limited in space and time (45 minute set), the band made it up with a heavy dose of new material from their fantastic new record “Paradise.” The album, which has gotten a good reaction in the States, has received a strong reaction across the globe. In Japan, the album was featured in large displays in record stories. “People LOVE ‘Paradise’ overseas,” said McCarter. “They’ve gotten a taste of it though the live show for the most part, but there were many Instagram followers in Japan sharing pics and videos of their new purchases.”
McCarter also reflected on working on the new record with producer Mario Caldato Jr. (also known as Mario C.), who is well-known for his work with the Beastie Boys and many others. “His presence was such a pivotal point in refining our collective voice,” explained McCarter. “He truly provided us with many diverse reference points for some of the sounds and vibes we were creating with the project. I mean, he’s been making hit record since the early 80’s! He crafted an amazing album, as well as an educational experience for all of us.”
For more information about Grace Potter, see her website.
To find out more about Con Brio, click here.