The banners framing the stage for this, the 25th season of Thursday at the Square, use a pastiche of iconic Buffalo imagery to create the shape of a guitar. And rightfully so -- the free concert series is as much a part of the fabric of our culture as any event. You can tell by how much we complain about it.
So while next week's move to the waterfront makes a ton of sense, one couldn't help but feel a tad nostalgic for the comparatively quaint Lafayette Square setting on Thursday evening. Thankfully, before I could do much reminiscing, my ears were blown out by two marvelous, high-energy performances.
Opening act Fitz & the Tantrums were right up my alley, in that they continue my favorite trend in pop music over the last five years -- the unabashed appropriation of Motown arrangements and melodies (thank you, Ms. Winehouse).
The stylish six-piece incorporated minor key piano chords as eighth notes on more than half of their tunes, a sure-fire element of a bad-ass groove if there ever was one. But the group was also pretty versatile. From the Smokey Robinson flute melody of "Picking Up the Pieces" to the kinetic, organ-fueled mayhem of "LOV," this band proved that nothing can get a crowd moving like that classic R&B formula. One tiny observation: The group's backup singer had stronger chops and greater energy than the lead vocalist on this night. She never got to sing lead, and that's just heinous.
Then came the headliner, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, who made the most of a thoroughly warmed-up crowd with a high-energy blend of psychedelic blues and dramatic pop. For those who only know Potter from her laid-back appearance on the Kenny Chesney ballad, "You and Tequila," this set would've been one heck of an awakening. The Nocturnals employ a fairly ferocious two-guitar attack, but Potter's voice was its loudest instrument on Thursday. As she lent her acrobatic screams to the churning boogie of band, the Big Brother and The Holding Company comparisons were easy to make.
A bit too easy, in fact. Grace isn't Janis. There was a slicker pop sensibility amongst all the noise on stage -- evidenced on the ultra hummable tunes "Only Love" and "Goodbye Kiss" -- that resulted in a set that, while mightily energetic, didn't reach that level of transcendence that Joplin visited on the regular. But as the group unleashed a stirring rendition of Jefferson Airplane's "White Rabbit," it felt like a fitting closing to 25 years at the square. The trips could get horrifying at times, but when they were great, they were unforgettable.
Grace Potter & the Nocturnals with Fitz & the Tantrums
WHEN: Thursday evening as part of Thursday at the Square
WHERE: Lafayette Square