LEWISTON – Question: What do you get when you meld the instrumental virtuosity of an arena rock guitarist with the smoky voice of a roadhouse siren, the looks of a runway model and the moves of a go-go dancer?
You get Grace Potter, appearing as a solo artist – but certainly not alone – to make a sweltering Tuesday night even hotter with a searing, classic rock-coated set off the Niagara River at Artpark.
And for Potter, dealing out an evening of sweat-soaked Gibson licks is nothing new. Since bursting onto the mainstream rock scene with the Nocturnals and their self-titled breakthrough album in 2010, the Vermont-bred songstress has mystified crowds with her rare combination of vocal chops, amplified proficiency and palpitation-inducing beauty. This trio combines to deliver tracks anchored to the sounds of the ’70s, with performance clips from Heart and the Who seemingly oozing out of thumping studio tracks or on-stage video clips.
But with Potter’s current “Magical Midnight Roadshow” tour – as well as her new album “Midnight,” due out on Aug. 14 – the singer’s gone solo. Well, sort of. Some of her Nocturnal bandmates (including drummer Matt Burr and guitarist Benjamin Yurco) are backing her on this summer run of shows and new material like the glitter-covered spring single, “Alive Tonight.”
If any fans were worried that Potter’s new status would signal a departure from the siren’s wail and Flying V chords that have endeared her to rock fandom since her initial emergence, fear not. Alone or otherwise, she’s still drawing inspiration from genre forebears Nancy Wilson and Roger Daltrey, as evidenced by her set Tuesday night in Lewiston.
Opening with the hard-hitting Nocturnals’ trio of “Never Go Back,” “Runaway” and “Ah, Mary,” Potter came out with the same seductive ferocity that’s ingratiated her to both fans and weeknight drinkers alike, vamping for the crowd in a turquoise mini dress while intermittently ripping strings on her Gibson. And this type of exhibitionism or general flirtatious freedom might be viewed as compensatory if the musician in question were deemed low-grade on her given assignments. But with Potter, it’s merely an attribute, there as an additive within a live show meant to blow caps off scalps and sunglasses off faces.
As for the headliner’s foray into solo material, look no farther than the soon-to-be hit, “Empty Heart,” which was delivered via acoustic and seemingly summoned vocal inspiration from the likes of Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn. Stomping and strumming and gorgeous, it’s a crossover hit waiting to happen for a woman who’s already spent recording time with Kenny Chesney (on duet “Wild Child”). But if any country fans in attendance were unimpressed with this pop-ish foray into their cherished genre, Potter’s thunderous cover of Johnny Cash’s “God’s Gonna Cut You Down” might’ve made them believers, as she joined drummer Burr’s snare hits with sliding chords – and filled the song with more diesel than the late Cash (may he rest in peace) ever could.
Opening the night for Potter and Co. was a somewhat disengaged Jessica Lea Mayfield, who offered an abbreviated acoustic set – with offerings like “Standing in the Sun” and throwback track “For Today” (off her debut EP) – before abruptly leaving the stage.