Wed, 09/19/2012 - 7:24 am

Let me get the lede out of the way right at the top: Grace Potter & The Nocturnals and The Avett Brothers are two of the hardest-working, hardest-rocking live bands you can see at any venue, any time. When they’re both on the same bill…well, that’s a show to seek out – particularly because they tend toward medium-size venues – your House of Blues, or old theaters like the Beacon in New York, the Wiltern in LA or their brethren around the country – venues where you can still get close enough to see the sweat flying off their brows.

GPN and the Avetts topped the bill on the second and final night of the Grand Point North festival, an annual event hosted by Grace Potter & Co. at Waterfront Park on the shores of lovely Lake Champlain in Burlington, VT. This is the second year of the festival, a decidedly small-scale, Vermont-flavored affair. Attendance at the two-day event runs around 6,000. I caught Day Two, which brought to the stage bands from as near as Burlington (Waylon Speed), and as far as California (Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers), Montreal (Sam Roberts Band) and New Orleans (Galactic).

Nicki Bluhm | Grand Point North

The Avetts and Grace Potter & The Nocturnals are well acquainted with one another – they played Red Rocks together a year ago, and will be together down in Alabama next month – and each band seems to push the other to raise its game. The Avetts stepped onto the stage at the start of their hour-plus set with the kind of swagger that comes from mixing moonshine and weed. For those whose only exposure to the band is via album, their live shows most definitely take it up a notch. Musically, they draw from a lot of wells, and over the course of different songs can echo early Beatles, The Band, the Dead (circa Workingman’s Dead/American Beauty), all the way to something closer to the Clash (if that group had been raised in the woods of North Carolina rather than the alleys of London). If there is a signature Avett Brothers kind of song, it would be a raucous, foot-stomping rocker, and they opened their set at Grand Point North with a pair of them: “Distraction #74” and “Paranoia in B Major.”  Sure, the instruments there in their hands – banjo, acoustic electric, piano, stand-up bass, cello – might lead one to think they were a country outfit (and truth be told they do have a fair amount of country sensibility, not all that different than The Band or the Dead), but in their soul they want to rock.

The Avett Brothers

The Avetts’ stage shows are high energy. Brothers Scott (banjo/piano) and Seth (guitar) are in motion nearly the whole show, and bring to their performance a passion and commitment rivaling that of Bruce Springsteen. They believe unashamedly in the power of music to redeem and uplift. They are joined by Bob Crawford on bass, Jacob Edwards on drums and the irrepressible Joe Kwon on cello. A way to tell if you’re in for a good night with The Avett Brothers is if Joe Kwon is rocking out, swinging his cello around his head, playing it like a guitar, shredding his bows – as he was Saturday night in Vermont.

The Avett Brothers blazed through a 15-song set at Grand Point North, highlighted by spirited versions of “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise,” “Go To Sleep,” “Kick Drum Heart,” and “Live and Die,” – the last of these being the first single off of their most recent album, The Carpenter, released just last week.  To be sure, this is a band that’s not afraid of the straight, unadorned ballad; “Murder In The City,” a stark homage to family and faith sung alone on stage by Scott Avett, is a popular staple of their live shows, and “February 7,” another new track off of The Carpenter, was well-received by the festival crowd. But, like Springsteen, the Avetts don’t like to go too long without getting people back up on their feet.  They closed out their set with “Talk of Indolence,” a brash country-punk rocker that shifts speed about four different times and includes a refrain that may just sum up The Avett Brothers better than anything I could come up with: “Because we had to/Because I loved you/Because the damned alcohol/Because what ever at all.”

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals is a band with vintage rock and roll blood coursing through its very heart. If there are those unfamiliar with the band, or who think it’s just a glam chick band, or are under the impression that all they play are ballads of the kind featured on Grey’s Anatomy or Dawson’s Creek, I have come to pass down The Word: live on stage, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals will rock your gypsy soul.

If you need a Dead connection, look no further than Potter joining Bob Weir, Warren Haynes and others on stage at the newly reopened Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY two weeks ago for a jam that included “Jack Straw,” “Bird Song” and several other tunes. The Dead may be on the outer edge of Grace Potter’s repertoire, but GPN is a band that seems to have been created from magic pixie dust that fell off a host of the Dead’s contemporaries – the Stones, The Band, Fleetwood Mac, Neil Young, Led Zeppelin and other gods – and reconstituted itself decades later in the form of a young, hard-rocking band up in them there Vermont hills.

Potter & Co. came out rocking Saturday night, about an hour after the last rays of the sun disappeared over the western shore of Lake Champlain. They opened their set with a slam-bam pairing of “Medicine” and “Stop The Bus,” the latter tune featuring Potter on a signature Flying V created for her by the Gibson Guitar Co. They mixed a good half-dozen or so songs from their recently released The Lion The Beast The Beat, including “Never Go Back,” “Parachute Heart,” “Loneliest Soul” (co-written with the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach), and “The Divide” (reportedly written by Potter under the trance of some magic mushrooms).

If Potter is the band’s Mick Jagger, the focal point of most of the attention on stage, then guitarist Scott Tournet is its Keith Richards, keeping GPN tethered to its rock and roll roots. The best songs the band does are the ones that let Tournet and fellow guitarist Benny Yurco stretch out and jam. “Stop The Bus” is definitely one of those songs, as is the title track from The Lion The Beast The Beat, which more than lives up to its name in live performance.

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals

Potter brought Phish keyboardist Page McConnell on stage to help out on a cover of…wait for it, no not a Phish song, but the ZZ Top classic “Tush” (“lord take me downtown, I’m just looking for some tush”). GPN is a band that loves to do covers, and they didn’t stop with ZZ Top. Near the close of their set, they teased (if my Led Zeppelin serves me correctly) the opening guitar riff to “Over The Hills And Far Away” for a minute or two before launching into Heart’s “Crazy On You,” a song that fits this band like a glove. They followed this with “White Rabbit” (there are those mushrooms again!), a cover GPN often features in their live shows, and a version of which they recorded for the soundtrack to Tim Burton’s Alice In Wonderland. The vampy rocker “Paris (Ooh La La),” a song that lets Potter strut her stuff across the stage, closed out the set, before GPN brought The Avett Brothers and some of the day’s other performers back on stage for a sing-along version of the Beatles “All You Need Is Love.”

Grand Point North (the initials are GPN, get it?) is a nice, easygoing festival, and one hopes Potter will keep it going next year and beyond. The weather cooperated for the most part, although Friday night was apparently a little on the (understatement alert) breezy side. Friday evening’s line up featured, in addition to GPN, sets from Dr. Dog, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Rich Robinson and others.

Check out a few more photos from Grand Point North.

Mon, 02/18/2013 - 1:02 pm

Fans of the Grateful Dead’s Dick’s Picks and Dave’s Picks series will welcome a new archival series of live Jerry Garcia Band recordings that debuts tomorrow (Feb. 19) with the release of GarciaLive Volume 1. The 3-CD set features the complete performance of the JGB (there was an early show and a late show) at the Capitol Theatre in Passaic, NJ, on March 1, 1980.The shows were originally recorded in multi-track for live broadcast by New York radio station WNEW-FM. The choice of a 1980 show for the debut of this new series is a good one, pairing superior live-recording technology with Garcia and his band still in prime form. The sound quality produced by the remastering is excellent, certainly far better than would have been heard during the original broadcast. It’s easily as good as the best of the Dick’s/Dave’s Picks releases.The Capitol Theatre show came at the end of a short East Coast swing by Garcia, who was joined at the time by John Kahn on bass, Ozzie Ahlers on keyboards and Johnny de Foncesca on drums. The early show opens with a stunning and lengthy (nearly 15 min.) version “Sugaree” that includes at least three separate solos by Garcia.  The setlist over the two shows includes most of the staples of the JGB’s repertoire at the time, including “Catfish John,” “How Sweet It Is,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Sitting in Limbo” and “Mission in the Rain.” The first show is the better of the two, with solid tracks from start to finish. The second set flags at times, such as on the pair of tracks on which Garcia is joined by his longtime writing partner Robert Hunter. But it’s redeemed by a top-flight “Dear Prudence” that closes out the night.The 3-CD set was originally slated for a November 2012 release (if you’re like me, you may have received an email six months ago heralding its arrival), but was pushed back for whatever reason. It’s well worth the wait. The set is nicely packaged, and includes a 6-page insert of liner notes by David Gans. The 3-CD version goes for $24.99, or one can opt for a digital download at $14.99. You can find further info here: The good folks at are aiming to release four to six shows a year as part of the GarciaLive series. We eagerly await Volume 2.Full track listing:Disc 1Early show

  1. Sugaree
  2. Catfish John
  3. How Sweet It Is
  4. Simple Twist of Fate

Disc 2

  1. Sitting in Limbo
  2. That’s All Right
  3. Deal (early show encore)

Late Show

  1. Mission in the Rain
  2. That’s What Love Will Make You Do

Disc 3

  1. Russian Lullaby
  2. The Harder They Come
  3. Tiger Rose (w/ Robert Hunter)
  4. Promontory Rider (w/ Robert Hunter)
  5. Midnight Moonlight
  6. Dear Prudence (late show encore)
Wed, 07/31/2013 - 2:47 pm

Great music, great venue, great weather. The Newport Folk Festival has succeeded in reinventing itself in recent years, adopting a broader definition of “folk” that has allowed for the inclusion of a wide range of what might be called “folk-inspired” bands, while still paying homage to its acoustic guitar-strumming roots. In a sign of its reinvigorated popularity, this year’s festival was entirely sold-out for Saturday and Sunday before the lineup of artists was even announced (the festival has expanded to three full days with the addition of a Friday schedule). The Grateful Web checked out the Saturday and Sunday shows, and liked these 10 things most of all:

Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers – Nicki Bluhm and her all-male backing band kicked off the music on Saturday with a set of California soul that had folks dancing in the aisles at the relatively early hour of 12 noon. Bluhm has become a regular on the festival circuit, and has sat in with the likes of Bob Weir, Phil Lesh and Warren Haynes. Someone clearly played this girl a lot of Linda Ronstadt albums when she was growing up, and she returned the favor by covering Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good” during her Newport set.  The band’s live take on “Jetplane,” off of Bluhm’s 2011 album Driftwood, was a rumbling, rocking treat.

The Lone Bellow – If ever there were a band tailor-made for the new Newport Folk Fest, it’s The Lone Bellow, a trio of guitar-playing harmonizers augmented on stage by a bassist and drummer. Their eponymous debut album was released at the start of the year, and they’ve been winning converts with impassioned live shows throughout the spring and summer. Their songs range from gorgeous, three-part-harmony ballads (“Two Sides of Lonely”) to foot-stomping alt-country rock (“Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold”). Lead vocalist Zach Williams seems to inhabit every sweat-soaked note of every song. “Tree to Grow” and “Teach Me To Know” – two songs that start slow and build to rousing climaxes – are becoming their definitive live tunes. This band will headline Newport some day – mark my words.

Jim James – The frontman for My Morning Jacket, which headlined last year’s Newport Folk Fest, returned for a solo set this year. I had little idea what to expect, having never seen him in concert. James came out on stage dressed in a maroon suit, white shirt, black tie, and the same sort of shit-eating grin that David Crosby always seemed to wear. He then proceeded to slay a packed main-stage crowd with an hour-long set of guitar and saxophone-laced jamming. If David Crosby and Van Morrison had a child together, and that child’s nanny was Marvin Gaye – well, that child might have grown up to be Jim James. His guitar chops I knew about, but the surprise was how soulful James’ singing voice was in concert.

Father John Misty – Father John Misty, for those of you who don’t know, is the stage name of former Fleet Foxes drummer Joshua Tillman. He released an album under that name last year, and has been touring of late, confusing audiences and critics alike with an over-the-top stage act. Father John left some Newport festival-goers scratching their heads when he delivered a screed about how precious their little festival was, and how any indie band can pass for “folk” these days. Talk about biting the hand that’s feeding you! “I’m only here because I’m white, I have a beard, and there’s acoustic guitar on my album,” he declared. Then he went on to lament that “we have our ‘folk festivals’ in stinking monuments to nationalistic imperialism” (I believe he was talking about Fort Adams State Park, which didn’t seem terribly imperialistic to me, but whatever dude). I think the key to enjoying Father John is not to get too caught up in his rants. It’s not that the whole thing is an act, but part of it is – and I guess it’s up to the audience to figure out which part is which. Imagine the actor John Malkovich fronting a folk band – it’s a little like that. Later in the show, Mr. Misty dialed it back, saying, “It’s been a little preachy, it’s been a little antagonistic. But it’s gonna be all smooches and cinnamon buns from here out.” And, oh yeah, the music. It’s worth seeing him for the music too. His Beatles-esque “I’m Writing a Novel” – equal parts “Paperback Writer” and “The Ballad of John and Yoko” – sounded more Beatles-like than the Beatles.

The Avett Brothers – The Avett Brothers were the Saturday night headliners – and, well, I’ve just never seen a live Avetts show that was anything less than electrifying. Their amalgam of rock, country and folk music exemplifies the broader definition of “folk” the festival has adopted. The brothers rocked out on staples such as “Go To Sleep” and “Laundry Room,” and delivered an anthemic version of “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise.” If “I and Love and You” has become the Avett’s festival-ready sing-along number – it was the encore at Newport – then “Head Full of Doubt/Road Full of Promise” remains the signature live tune that best encapsulates what this band is all about. “If you’re loved by someone, you’re never rejected/decide what to be, and go be it.”

Spirit Family Reunion – Festivals are always great for discovering bands you didn’t know anything about, but love once you hear them. One of these for me was Spirit Family Reunion, a sextet of guitar, banjo, fiddle, uke and washboard-wielding troubadours. This is real hoedown music, albeit with pitch-perfect three-part harmonies delivered by Maggie Carson, Matt Davidson and Nick Panken clustered around a single microphone. For all their dusty Americana-ness, they got their start playing the streets and subways of New York City.

Lord Huron – This was the other new find for me at the festival. Lord Huron is an indie folk band put together by the musician Ben Schneider. The band has one full-length album, “Lonesome Dreams,” under their belt, but the album only hints at what the band can do live. It’s hard to describe exactly where their sound lands. They’ve been compared to Fleet Foxes, but that’s not really the right model, for Lord Huron in concert moves closer to jam band territory than Fleet Foxes ever does. Their set started simply enough, with the folk-and-country-sounding “Ends of the Earth” and “I Will Be Back One Day.” But as their set unfolded, the band started to open up into some extended jams that brought the crowd to their feet. “Lonesome Dreams,” “She Lit a Fire” and set-closer “Mighty” were simply transcendent. More than a few festival-goers I spoke with considered Lord Huron’s one of the best sets of the weekend.

Stubborn Love – The Lumineers had the penultimate slot on the main stage Sunday afternoon, and did not disappoint. For part of their hour-long set they decamped from the main stage and played a handful of songs smack dab in the middle of the lawn, surrounding by thousands of happy festival-goers. They have, of course, one of the best festival sing-along songs ever in their hit single “Ho Hey.” As fun as that song can be to join in with at an outdoor concert, it is another of the songs from their self-titled debut album that has become the true centerpiece of their live shows: “Stubborn Love.” This song has a little more emotional heft than “Ho Hey,” and if anything becomes more powerful when performed live. Their take on “Stubborn Love” was one of the best single songs of the weekend for this humble reviewer.

The Golden Age – The other single tune that stood out in a weekend filled with a lot of great music was Sunday headliner Beck’s opening song: “The Golden Age.” Sometimes a song and a moment can come together in serendipitous ways at a festival (or any concert, really), and so it was with this song, as the sun was starting to set over Newport’s picturesque harbor, laced with white sails and pink clouds. We may be far from a golden age, but at the least Beck gave us a golden moment as he closed the 54th edition of the venerable festival in style.

The venue – There are certainly bigger, better-attended and more noteworthy festivals than Newport. But if the gods provide the right July weather, it’s hard to think of a better location for a summer festival than Newport’s Fort Adams State Park, which sits at the mouth of Newport Harbor and offers vistas of the harbor and surrounding Narragansett Bay. The weather on Friday was mistakenly meant for late September, with the temperature barely 60 and on-and-off rain throughout the day. But summer weather returned for Saturday and Sunday, basking the crowd in breezy sunshine for most of both days. Because the folk festival has been going on almost continuously for more than a half a century, most of the kinks have long been ironed out. It’s a smoothly-run and decidedly family-friendly affair. Surrounded by scores of boats small and large anchored just offshore to hear the sounds, the festival grounds were like a giant beach party, with a killer playlist, for two long days at the height of summer.

Tue, 09/10/2013 - 11:09 am

1. Gregg Allman looks like the kind of people he sings about. This isn’t meant in a disparaging way. The man just has a lot of miles on his face – character lines, you could call them. And you feel that each line and crag in that face could tell a hundred stories. I’m not sure if Mick Jagger lives a single line in any of his songs anymore. But you get the feeling Gregg Allman still does. “I don’t own the clothes I’m wearing, and the road goes on forever.”2. The Allman Brothers Band is one of the few bands left that start a show the Grateful Dead way: stroll on stage, pick up instruments, fiddle with the amps for a couple of minutes, and start playing. They don’t burst out with an opening number a la the Rolling Stones or pretty much every other band in creation. They just start playing. Unlike the good old Grateful Dead, though, they don’t really need a first set to feel their way into a groove. The groove is pretty much there from the get-go.3. Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks play better together in concert than any other pair of guitarists out there. There may be better individual ax men around – although both these guys surely belong in any Top 20 list – but as a pair? It’s hard to come up with two names I’d put above these guys right now. It looks effortless, but you know it’s not.  4. Revival. Live, on a late summer’s night. In an open-air venue. Worth the price of admission, by itself. Everyone who likes rock and roll should see this song live at least once before they depart.5. Killer cover of The Weight. I knew the ABB have been covering The Weight on this tour, usually joined by someone from their opening act – Steve Winwood a week ago, Grace Potter on this night. I love The Weight (and love Grace Potter), but was hoping for a cover choice that was a little more creative. Everyone covers The Weight these days, so I was figuring it would be the usual sing-along, with too many people on stage to do any real damage. I was wrong. The Weight was one of the highlights of the night, an f----n’ freight train of a version that reinvented the song, taking it out of its little square box and stretching it into the kind of jam Joe Cocker and his Mad Englishmen used to do.  Grace Potter is steeped in classic rock, but it was Haynes, Trucks and the ABB’s incomparable rhythm section that drove this train through the night.6. I’ll party with the ABB crowd any day. There was plenty of partying, no shortage of recreational amusement, but no obnoxious assholes. Everyone was being nice to everyone around them. Maybe it was a good night or maybe it’s a fan base that has been around enough to know how to have a good time while still respecting whoever’s sitting around you. Makes for a nice night.

Tue, 09/17/2013 - 2:22 pm

After a summer playing dates with the likes of the Allman Brothers Band and Tedeschi Trucks, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals brought it all back home to Vermont for Grand Point North, the two-day music festival they host at Waterfront Park on the banks of Lake Champlain in downtown Burlington. As an added treat for jam band fans, GPN added an after-show to the second day of the festival that was dubbed Grand Point Dead, a loose, late-night session featuring a rotating cast of musicians covering some classic Dead tunes.

GPN opened their headlining set on Day 2 (Sunday) with a bang, launching right into “Stop the Bus,” their signature live number that never fails to wow. There’s no better tune to offer the uninitiated as an entrée into what Grace Potter & The Nocturnals are all about. If you don’t like “Stop the Bus,” you’re probably not going to get what all the hoopla is about; if you do like it…well, there’s plenty more where that came from. It’s an archetypal rock-and-roll song: the lyrics aren’t terribly profound, but it’s all in the delivery – Grace Potter wailing to “stop the bus and turn the raaaaaadio up high” over drummer Matt Burr’s pounding 1-2 beat and the sonic wail of not two but three guitars (Potter straps on a custom Gibson Flying V for this song, to join guitarists Scott Tournet and Benny Yurco). It’s a song most bands would save for an encore, but GPN uses anywhere they please in their set, wherever rock-and-roll is called for.

Tournet and Yurco lit the stage on fire later in the set with an extended jam during “Tiny Light,” a breezy number from GPN’s 2010 self-titled album that has been transformed in concert into something closer to an Aerosmith or Pink Floyd song. Several songs later, Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes joined with Tournet on a scorching version of “2:22,” an old number off of the band’s 2005 Nothing But The Water album that also featured Potter channeling some Janis Joplin.

Potter had sat in with Gov’t Mule during their subheadlining set earlier in the evening to cover “Gold Dust Woman,” which Haynes and Potter have transformed into something of a signature duet in recent years. I’ve seen video of their various takes on this classic Fleetwood Mac number, but this was the first time I’d experienced it live. It’s easy to see why they keep coming back to it, for it fits Potter perfectly both vocally and spiritually, and Haynes keeps it anchored to the blues rather than letting the song float away on a cloud of fairy dust and lace.

The rest of Gov’t Mule’s hour-long set on Sunday was a treat, featuring at least three songs off their forthcoming album Shout – “World Boss,” “Captured” and “Funny Little Tragedy” – and searing versions of classics “Slackjaw Jezebel” and “Banks of the Deep End.” Midway through Gov’t Mule’s set, I was thinking it was pretty gutsy of Grace Potter to allow them to play right before GPN, because Warren Haynes and Co. are daaaammmn good. But Potter loves great rock-and-roll, and does not appear fazed to have a band just as good as GPN share the stage with them.

Other highlights of the Sunday line up at Grand Point North included: Natalie Prass, a singer-songwriter out of Nashville with an ethereal voice riding over a funky beat laid down by GPN ringers Benny Yurco and bassist Michael Libramento, and Prass’s own three-man backing band that includes a drummer, percussionist and keyboard player; Rough Francis, a wild quintent that called the mind The Who or Van Halen, if either of those bands had been fronted by black singers and guitarists rather than long-haired white guys; Shovels and Rope, a husband-wife duo from North Carolina that’s been wowing audiences around the country over the last year with their energetic and joyous live shows of alt-country Americana; crowd favorite Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, a jazz and R&B wunderkind from New Orleans who plays both trombone and trumpet; and City and Colour, the performing name of Canadian musician Dallas Green, who played a well-received set of acoustic and folk rock that included a haunting version of “The Grand Optimist.”

The Grand Point Dead after-festival show was held at the Higher Ground, a popular South Burlington, VT club that has long served as a hometown venue for Grace Potter & The Nocturnals. The gig was put together by GPN’s Benny Yurco, and featured Yurco and a host of local musicians, augmented by guest appearances from some of the festival performers, including Warren Haynes and Potter herself. The event felt a little slapped together: it was late getting started, some of the guests needed crib sheets for the lyrics, and at times the vocals were mixed too low for the music. But there were enough rewards to make it easy to overlook the minor shortcomings.

Yurco and friends opened with a sprightly “Feel Like a Stranger,” and an even better “Bertha,” before being joined by Warren Haynes for a superb “Scarlet Begonias/Fire on the Mountain” jam. Haynes stayed on stage and Grace Potter came out to join the band for a soulful version of “Sugaree,” with Haynes unleashing several long solos that would have done Jerry proud. Most of the rest of the set list was filled with classic 70’s era Dead, and leaned toward the Jerry end of the spectrum. Highlights included “Tennessee Jed,” “China Cat Sunflower/I Know You Rider,” “Friend of the Devil” (with Potter on vocals) and an extended “Help On the Way/Slipknot/Franklin’s Tower.”

Check out more photos from Grand Point North.

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 11:44 am

The Newport Folk Festival may not be a monster fest on the order of a Bonnaroo or a Coachella, but it has rejuvenated itself over the last half dozen years into a premier summer stop for a broad range of alternative, indie, country-rock and folk acts. Much of the rejuvenation has been the result of a conscious decision by festival organizers to loosen the definition of “folk” to include a much wider swath of bands – really anybody who could plausibly include an acoustic guitar at least somewhere in their set list. And Newport’s relatively small size – on the order of 10,000 or so fans a day – is a virtue, making the festival more intimate and accessible than some of its larger brethren.

The Grateful Web caught all three days of Newport Folk, and in roughly chronological order these are our Top 10 highlights:

1) Jenny Lewis – Jenny Lewis has hit the road this summer in support of her first new album in six years, The Voyager, which came out last Tuesday.  I saw her several months ago, during which she played a couple of tracks from the forthcoming (at that time) disc, but at Newport it was clear that she’s grown into the new songs live, and she devoted a good half of her set list to The Voyager, including opening with “Just One of the Guys,” an ode to tomboys that is the album’s first single, and closing with “She’s Not Me,” one of those songs about a man in her past that populate Lewis’ songbook. I’ve been listening to advance streams of The Voyager for several weeks and it seems even stronger than her previous release, 2008’s Acid Tongue. The new songs, mixed with hits from Lewis’ Rilo Kiley days like “Silver Lining” and “A Man/Me/Then Jim,” about the “slow fade of love,” made for an early highlight on the festival’s first afternoon.

2) Ryan Adams – Looking like the ghost of Neil Young past, with his unkempt stringy hair, jean jacket adorned with patches, silver shades and freak flag draped over the amps, Ryan Adams was the festival’s Friday headliner. Adams is back with a full band now for the first time in five years, and the help seems to have energized him. Or maybe it was the sea air. “Ten years ago I was all depressed,” he said at one point. “Now I get to play with fucking sailboats in the background.” He opened his raucous set with “Gimme Something Good,” the first single off his upcoming self-titled album, due out in September, and then segued into “Magick,” a Cardinology track that was like something Elvis Costello could have played in his angry, late ’70s prime. Ryan Adams in a good mood is something to behold, and he was in a very good mood at Newport. Taking in the sea of fans before him, he did his best Mick Jagger imitation and said, “There’s so many of you, be cool, just don’t push around.” Highlights from his set included “Dirty Rain,” “Let It Ride,” “Sweet Carolina” and “Everybody Knows.” He unveiled another new song, “My Wrecking Ball,” saying, “You might like it. It’s a protest song.” Short pause. “Protesting the death of my grandmother.” He dropped in an unexpected cover of an old song by the heavy metal band Danzig, “Mother,” before closing his set with “Come Pick Me Up,” with its quintessential Ryan Adams lines: “Come pick me up, take me out, fuck me up, steal my records, screw all my friends.”

3) Shovels & Rope – This wasn’t Shovels & Rope’s first time playing Newport – they were in the lineup last year – but it was their first on the festival’s hallowed main stage, and they deserved to be there.  The husband-and-wife team out of Charleston, South Carolina – Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent – look like Dust Bowl outlaws from the 1930s, but outlaws who happen to be able to play guitar, harmonica, drums and anything else you can hit with a stick. What they produce is a fusion of country, folk and rock that is almost impossible not to get up and dance to. They too have a new album on the way, titled Swimmin’ Time, due for release this month, and they included five new songs in their 12-song set list. Particularly good were “Devil Is All Around” and “Coping Mechanism,” the latter a piano soul number they were playing in public for the first time. Other highlights included the semi-autobiographical “Birmingham” – Hearst introduced the song by saying, “Let me take you on a tour of our life” – and a foot-stomping “Hail Hail” to close the set.

4) Houndmouth – Newport – or any festival, really – is great for putting young acts in front of a wider audience. One such band at this year’s Fest was Houndmouth, a young quartet out of Indiana. They have a single album under their belt, 2013’s From the Hills Below the City, and mine a similar vein as Shovels & Rope: Americana and alt-country-rock and folk. A lot of smokin’ and drinkin’ and cussin’ and cheatin’ goes on in their songs, just like in real life. The tracks from their one album filled most of their 15-song set, sandwiched between a Funkadelic cover (“Can You Get to That”) to open and a Stones cover (“Loving Cup”) to close. If you’re into Exile-era Stones, you just might want to check out Houndmouth.

5) Lucius – Jess Wolfe, Holly Laessig and the three boys who make up Lucius may seem the oddest fit for a festival like Newport, but they’re really not. The premium this band places on style – Wolfe and Laessig always sport matching, haute couture outfits – should not mask their real musical talent. Wolfe and Laessig met at Boston’s Berklee School of Music, and hooked up with their three bandmates after moving to Brooklyn. Underneath their pop exterior lies a band more infused with Americana than many casual listeners may realize. They were everywhere during the festival weekend, singing with acts as varied as Jeff Tweedy, Mavis Staples, Shovels & Rope and Tall Tall Trees. They brought a banjo player with them, in a nod to Newport’s folky roots, but largely stuck to their percussive, high-energy indie pop/rock on standouts like “Tempest,” “Nothing Ordinary,” “How Loud Your Heart Gets” and “Turn It Around.” There’s a reason this “pop band” keeps showing up at places like Mountain Jam and Newport Folk; if you’ve been inclined to write them off without ever giving a listen, you may want to reconsider.

6) Jack White Goes Acoustic (Sort Of) – This much I know: Jack White is simply tuned to a different frequency than the rest of us. White was the festival’s biggest act, given the headlining slot on Saturday night. When he strode on stage a little after 6 pm, with the sun starting to set across Narragansett Bay, he was crackling with a sort of manic energy, all wired up with no outlet save the music. Clad in blue shirt, shades and tan hat, White picked up the electric guitar he intended to use for his opening song only to find that it was not tuned properly, leading him to furiously shunt it aside in favor of an acoustic. There’s always a sense that Jack White can blow if something isn’t quite right, but he seemed to recover from this opening miscue without too much emotional trauma, launching into an opening suite that sampled The White Stripes’ “Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground,” Son House’s “Death Letter” and his own solo tune “High Ball Stepper.” White left “Seven Nation Army” off the set list, but did play “Icky Thump,” which may be about as far from Pete Seeger’s Newport as one can go and still be on the bill. More than most guitarists, White plays to his drummer, the incomparable Daru Jones. Whenever the energy level amped up, White could be found in front of Jones’ drumkit trading licks with his percussionist. The real highlights of his set, though, were when he moved into more Newport-friendly territory, on countrified numbers like The White Stripes’ “Hotel Yorba” and “We’re Going to Be Friends,” or “Entitlement,” a song off White’s new album, Lazaretto, released in late June, which featured a long coda by fiddler Lillie Mae Rische. The famously private White tipped his hat to Newport near the end of his set, saying, “For the first time I walked around a festival and watched bands out in the open and everyone left me alone.” He closed the day out with a nod to the late Pete Seeger, covering the folk standard “Goodnight Irene,” joined on stage by many other of the day’s acts.

7) Ages and Ages – Ages and Ages have been around for five years, and some of their members are closer to their 30s than their 20s, but they still feel like a “young” band. Their second album, Divisionary, was released earlier this year, and they played a confident and compelling set on the festival’s main stage early in the day on Sunday. They opened with three songs off the sophomore disc: “Light Goes Out,” “No Pressure” and “I See More.” The six members Ages and Ages can overlap their harmonies akin to the way The Band did back in the day, and really shone on the spiritual “Our Demons” and “Over It” midway through their set. They closed out their too-short set with an uplifting version the title track from their new album, joined by members of the Berklee Gospel Choir.

8) Dawes – Dawes is another of those bands that has made multiple Newport appearances, but for the first time was playing the main stage. I’ve seen Dawes twice in the past, and they improve each time. When they hit the stage on Sunday afternoon, it was as grizzled old veterans of the road, whose live performances have been sharpened to a keen edge. The Newport crowd clearly has a place is its heart for Dawes, giving the band a hero’s welcome at the start of their set. They opened with a trio of strong songs, one from each of their three albums: “That Western Skyline,” “Most People,” and “Time Spent in Los Angeles.” Taylor Goldsmith is a literary songwriter along the lines of a Jackson Browne (with whom Dawes has played in the past), but it is still in live performance where this band truly shines, propelled along by Griffin Goldsmith on drums , Wylie Gelber on bass and Tay Strathairn on keys. The high point of their excellent set was a majestic version of “When My Time Comes,” although closing tracks “A Little Bit of Everything” and “From The Right Angle” were pretty damn good too.

9) Conor Oberst – I went into the festival not knowing a whole lot about Conor Oberst, and came out a fan. Oberst played a mix of old and new tunes (well, they were all new to me) in his 12-song set. Five of the songs were off his most recent solo album, Upside Down Mountain, including set openers “Time Forgot” and “Hundreds of Ways.” Clad in black pants, black shirt and black hat, Oberst had the angst-ridden mien of the tortured singer-songwriter down pat. But, supported by Dawes as well as his own five-piece backing band, he seemed to gain energy and intensity as his Newport set progressed. He ended the night drenched in sweat, after barreling through an impassioned closing run of “Governor’s Ball,” “Double Life” (both off the new album) and the Bright Eyes’ “Another Travelin’ Song.”

10) Mavis Staples – Mavis Staples was the sentimental choice to headline the festival’s Sunday set. She was celebrating both her 75th birthday this month, and the 50th anniversary of the first of her many appearances at the Newport Folk Fest. Her hour-plus set, though, was anything but a sentimental bit of treacle. Staples may not be able to run the 100-yard dash as fast as she probably could back in 1964 when she first played Newport, but her voice sounded as clear and strong as ever. Backed by her sister Yvonne and five other musicians – as well as a rotating cast of fellow Newport artists, including Lucius, Taylor Goldsmith, Jeff Tweedy and Norah Jones – Staples soared through a dozen songs that spanned the decades. Among the most stunning was a cover of the Talking Heads’ “Slippery People,” with Lucius’ Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig singing backup. She also covered the Buffalo Springfield classic “For What It’s Worth” as well as, of course, “The Weight.” Now, a cover of “The Weight” can seem obligatory these days, but not when it’s Mavis Staples doing the covering. If you’ve sung “The Weight” with The Band on the The Last Waltz, you’re permitted to cover it pretty much any time you damn well please. She traded verses on the timeless song with both Norah Jones and Taylor Goldsmith. Staples offered her own nod to fellow Newport veteran Seeger, who passed away this past January, with an emotional encore of “We Shall Overcome.”

Check out more photos from the 2014 Newport Folk Festival.

Tue, 11/18/2014 - 8:16 pm

For the uninitiated, The Wild Feathers may be the purest, most energetic descendants of the musical legacy of The Band that are out on the club circuit today. Their eponymous debut album came out a little over a year ago, and they have been touring relentlessly since that time. Their live shows are, simply put, whiskey-soaked, rafter-rattling good times.

Like The Band, all five members of The Wild Feathers – Ricky Young, Joel King, and Taylor Burns on guitar, Preston Wimberly on bass and Ben Dumas on drums – can mix-and-match or trade off vocal duties. They toss a lot of influences into the mix, from countrified Led Zeppelin (they’ve been known to cover “Hey Hey What Can I Do), to Exile-era Rolling Stones to CCR, Tom Petty and Neil Young.

On a Saturday night at the intimate Brighton Music Hall in Boston, The Wild Feathers blew through a 15-song set list with all the subtlety of a chin-high fastball. They’re not a jam band, and they don’t have much in the way of ballads yet – what they throw down is pretty straightforward rock-and-roll. They opened the Boston show with “Hard Wind” – “no matter where I turn, hard wind like a wildfire burns” – and just kept cranking it up from there.

With just the one album under their belts, you can be pretty sure of the set list – the dozen tracks from The Wild Feathers with a few new songs or covers thrown into the mix. Highlights from the Boston show included “I Can Have You” and their closing run of “Left My Woman,” “How” and “The Ceiling” – appropriate in a club where you can touch the ceiling from the stage.

They paid their debt to The Band with an encore of “The Weight” – a fitting closing number for this young band that, nearing the end of two solid years of touring, just needs a place to lay their heads. Plans are to head back to the studio soon to record their second album. Definitely a band to watch.

Sat, 12/20/2014 - 3:36 pm

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, long known for their rock’em sock’em live shows, are the latest group to tap into their vast vault of concert recordings for official release. They launched the series, dubbed Vaulturnal, with the release of a complete headlining show recorded at the Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, MA on the night of Aug. 19, 2013.

The band currently plans to release several live recordings a year, all of which will be fully mixed and mastered soundboard recordings. In a press release issued by GPN, Grace Potter said, “We’ve been talking for a long time about launching a live site for fans to access our music, and we have a fanbase that really does feed off the live-music experience.” Drummer Matt Burr added, “We’re excited to handpick shows that we’re really passionate about and get them out there.”

The sound quality of the initial release is excellent, and the 22-song set list includes a good two hours of music. The show really starts to take off during guitarist Scott Tournet’s trippy jam in the middle of “Treat Me Right,” followed by a typically scorching “Stop the Bus,” one of the band’s signature live tunes. Other treats along the way include a sampling of “Cortez the Killer” inside an acoustic “Falling or Flying,” a great pairing of “Turntable” and “The Divide” near the close of the main set, and three widely varied covers, of Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train,” Heart’s “Crazy on You” and Pink Floyd’s “Time.”

Vaulturnal Vol. 1 is available at in MP3, FLAC, ALAC and CD form.

Mon, 07/27/2015 - 1:04 pm

The revival of the venerable Newport Folk Festival continued with a very strong roster of artists this year that expanded once again the boundaries of what is “folk music.” Folk purists – the kind of people who booed Dylan when he went electric at the 1965 festival (this year was the 50th anniversary of that iconic set) – would probably have seen their heads explode if they caught My Morning Jacket’s surprise set on first night of this year’s gathering. Now MMJ does play some acoustic tunes, but much of their hour-long set was electric, and at volume 11. Other artists across the three-day fest have strands of folk in their DNA, but could more accurately be described as rock, soul, indie or alternative acts. But current fans of Newport seem to have little problem with how the festival has evolved, and its growing popularity is testament to the winning formula NFF organizer Jay Sweet has landed upon. The festival sold out this year 48 hours after tickets went on sale – and before a single artist had been announced. That’s the faith that regular attendees put in Newport’s ability to give them their money’s worth.

This year’s event saw the return of James Taylor to Newport 46 years after his first appearance at the festival had to be cut short because of the Apollo 11 moon landings. There were other highlights aplenty, but five sets that really stood out included:

1. The Lone Bellow – I’ve been a proselytizer for The Lone Bellow since their first album came out a couple of years ago, and have caught numerous sets of theirs at various festivals, clubs and even a New Hampshire church since then. Their concerts are a reaffirmation of the power of live music. They appeared on Newport’s main stage for the first time this year, and delivered a joyous hour of music, from gospel-tinged set opener “Then Came the Morning” to a rollicking “The One You Should Have Let Go” at the close. They were joined by Leon Bridges on “Watch Over Us”; by Lucius on a cover of the Everly Brothers’ (or Linda Ronstadt’s) “When Will I Be Loved”; and Sara Watkins on the beautiful ballad “Call to War.”

2. Langhorne Slim – Despite the fact that Langhorne Slim has been touring for the better part of the last 10 years, his Newport set was the first time I had ever seen him. And yowza was it a treat. This is what festivals are good for – discovering a new (or not so new) artist that you were completely unfamiliar with. After photographing the first few songs of his set, I was going to head to another stage but couldn’t get out of his force field. He had the crowd jumping, dancing and swaying for his entire set. Highly recommended.

3. Roger Waters with My Morning Jacket – As noted above, My Morning Jacket showed up for an unannounced set late on the festival’s first day, and stuck around to serve as backing band for Roger Waters’ headlining set. The booking of the Pink Floyd co-founder to headline one of the days at the festival was an inspired choice, another example of the “new” Newport Folk Fest. Along with MMJ, Waters was joined on stage by guitarist G.E. Smith, Sara Watkins on fiddle, and Lucius’ Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig on backing vocals. His 10-song set was masterful. After opening at the piano to debut a new song, “Crystal Clear Brooks,” Waters stepped to center stage, strapped on his black Martin acoustic and launched into “Mother.” When he reached the line “Mother, should I trust the government,” the crowd roared back its answer: “No!” What else did he play? Floyd classics “Wish You Were Here,” “Brain Damage” and “Eclipse,” as well as a couple of his solo tunes: “The Bravery of Being Out of Range” and “Amused to Death.” He also covered John Prine’s “Hello in There,” Buddy Miller’s “Wide River to Cross” (which he dedicated to Levon Helm, and on which he was joined by the late drummer’s daughter, Amy Helm) and Dylan’s “Forever Young.”

4. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats – Festivals are great places for new bands to grab some exposure a few levels above what they can get on their own. Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats took advantage of that opportunity to wow an audience of several thousand who crammed one of the festival’s secondary stages on Sunday afternoon. Newport’s Jay Sweet was quoted in Rolling Stone describing Rateliff as “the Blues Brothers meet Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison. Within 30 seconds of listening to his new album, I knew, and we made the offer.” The opening track of that as-yet-unreleased album (it comes out Aug. 21st) is a rowdy song titled “S.O.B.” Here’s a few lines: “Son of a bitch/give me a drink/one more night/this can’t be me/son of a bitch/if I can’t get clean/I’m gonna drink my life away.” Rateliff and his band closed their too-short set with a medley that sandwiched the opening and closing parts of “S.O.B.” around a spot-on cover of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In.” This band is too good to miss if they come by your neck of woods anytime soon.

5. Dylan ’65 Revisited – Newport could not lure Bob Dylan back to mark the 50th anniversary of his electric set, but they did get his guitar. The singer’s 1964 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster – which was sold at auction two years ago for $965,000 – was brought back to the festival as part of a set dubbed “Dylan ’65 Revisited.” The set, which closed out the festival Sunday evening, featured a host of current artists covering classic Dylan tunes. Taylor Goldsmith and the other four members of Dawes served as house band, along with folk duo Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch. Al Kooper, who played with Dylan at the ’65 show, sat in on organ. They were joined by a roving cast of others, including Hozier, Deer Tick’s Ian McCarthy, Willie Watson, Robyn Hitchcock, Blake Mills and First Aid Kit’s Klara Söderberg. Among the songs covered were “Maggie’s Farm,” “Just Like a Woman,” “Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues,” “Visions of Johanna” “It’s All Over Now Baby Blue” and of course, “Like a Rolling Stone.” They closed the show not with any obvious choice – such as “I Shall Be Released” – but with a rollicking sing-along of “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.”

Mon, 01/30/2017 - 6:59 am

It may seem as if the 40th anniversary of The Band’s Last Waltz has been going on forever, with various combinations of musicians paying homage to that seminal 1976 concert in a variety of ways.

The latest iteration is Warren Haynes’ The Last Waltz 40 Tour, which grew out of what was originally a one-off celebration at the New Orleans Jazz Fest last spring. Haynes decided to take the show back out on the road this month for a dozen or so dates along the East Coast. At Boston’s Orpheum Theatre, the veteran guitarist was joined by some top-notch sidemen (and –women), including Joan Osborne and Ivan Neville on vocals, Don Was on bass, Michael McDonald and John Medeski on piano and keys, Bob Margolin on guitar, Mark Mullins on trombone, and Terence Higgins on drums, along with the original horn arrangements of Allen Toussaint.

The Last Waltz 40 Tour does not replicate the entire 40+ songs of the original concert, but covers 20 or so songs split over two sets, with a two-song encore. Haynes, Neville, McDonald and Osborne traded off lead vocals from song to song; all four bring gritty authority to the well-worn staples of the set list, including “The Shape I’m In,” “It Makes No Difference,” “Life Is a Carnival,” “This Wheel’s on Fire,” and others.

Haynes’ vocal on “It Makes No Difference” sounded strikingly similar to Rick Danko’s, and the horn coda at the tail end of the song drew appreciative cheers from the audience. Another highlight of the first set was a rollicking version of “Down South in New Orleans” that would have done Little Feat proud.

The second set opened strong with “Ophelia,” followed by a sensational “Caravan” and “Helpless.” Then “Mystery Train,” the kind of tune that lets Haynes and co. stretch out and jam. More blues followed, including “Mannish Boy” and “Further On Up the Road,” before the set closed with, of course, “The Weight” and “I Shall Be Released,” the latter morphing into a soaring guitar anthem.

Some music purists may not see the need to continually cover these hallowed tunes. But I would respectfully disagree. The Last Waltz 40 Tour is not a glorified cover band. These are some of the best musicians in the business bringing a night of excellent music to an audience that clearly appreciates what they’re hearing. I’d highly recommend trying to catch one of the remaining shows if you can.

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 12:27 pm

Whither Grace Potter? After more than a decade of constant touring, the Vermont-based rock n’ roller has been all but absent from the stage for the last year. She returned this weekend to host Grand Point North, the annual mini-festival on the waterfront in Burlington, VT, that was started in 2011 when her calling card read Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.

Potter has admitted in interviews that she spent much of the last year in hibernation, off the stage and away from music. She briefly considered calling off this year’s fest, amid some major life changes, most notably a divorce from her husband and former bandmate Matt Burr that was made public last month. And then, on the eve of Grand Point North, Potter revealed that she is both pregnant and engaged. More on all that below.

This year’s festival was a noticeably scaled-down affair from past versions, with a decent crowd but not packed elbow-to-elbow the way it was when Grace and the Nocturnals were headlining and support came from groups like The Avett Brothers and Gov't Mule.

We caught the Saturday show at the fest, which featured engaging sets by a number of local Vermont-based bands – including Lake Superior and Small Talker – and the funk and soul of New Orleans’ Tank and the Bangas, fronted by the irrepressible Tarriona ‘Tank’ Ball.

The stage began to heat up with the arrival of Hurray for the Riff Raff, another band out of New Orleans that is winning increasing acclaim for their excellent live performances. Singer Alynda Lee Segarra was mesmerizing during songs like “Living in the City” or their closing cover of Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.”

Mondo Cozmo followed with a full-throated blast of rock-and-roll right from song one. Mondo Cozmo is the stage name for singer, songwriter, and producer Josh Ostrander, but on tour this year he’s been playing with a full backing band, and they were top-notch. They call to mind another rocking outfit that played Grand Point North several years ago, Adam Granduciel’s The War on Drugs. On tracks off Ostrander’s latest album, Plastic Soul – including “Chemical Dream,” “Shine,” “Hold on to Me” and “Higher” – Mondo Cozmo took everyone higher. “Let ‘em get high, let ‘em get stoned. Everything will be alright if you let it go.” Another treat: closing with The Verve’s “Bitter Sweet Symphony.”

The perennially underrated Dawes capped the undercard with a fiery set of staples from their live canon, including “From the Right Angle,” “Fire Away,” “Most People” and the anthemic “When My Time Comes.” Taylor Goldsmith and Trevor Menear have become a serious jam team, aided by the formidable Griffin Goldsmith on drums and Wylie Gelber on bass.

As a longtime fan of the Nocturnals, it has not always been easy to appreciate Grace Potter’s solo efforts – a sentiment that I know is shared by other current and former GPN fans. Something special seemed to be left behind when various members of the Nocturnals departed the band, one by one. But I tried to take in Grace Potter’s headlining set at Grand Point North with an open mind; how would I react to this set if I came to it cold, with no remembrance of things past. And in that context, it was simply excellent.  Potter remains a captivating stage presence, and her voice sounded fresh and full of passion. Her band, though more a backing group than the spirited Nocturnals, is sharp as a tack, led by the one holdover from the old days, guitarist Benny Yurco.

Moreover, there was added poignancy in many of the lyrics Potter sang Saturday night. The set list – largely comprised of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals songs rather than solo tracks – seemed to provide a window into what it is she’s been wrestling with over the last year. It’s hard to look at a set list that includes “Empty Heart,” “Runaway,” “Apologies,” “Never Go Back,” “Look What We’ve Become” and “Loneliest Soul” as not reflecting something.

Indeed, one reason she may have sounded so good was that a lot of these songs seem to be imbued with new meaning, and her performance reflected that. Ten years down the road from when Potter first sang “Apologies,” there is new weight “to see me reading through this scene of love and fear…you know it hurts me, that I didn’t figure it out before.” Even the snippets of songs she covered – GPN sets almost always included a few well-chosen covers – told the same story. First, Jackie DeShannon’s “Put a Little Love in Your Heart” before her own “Empty Heart.” Then later in the set Jefferson Airplane, not the “White Rabbit” that Potter used to cover but these darker lines from “Somebody to Love”: “When the truth is found, to be lies, and all the joy within you dies.” Yes indeed.

She closed out her set with a soaring “Stars,” and thunderous “The Lion The Beast The Beat,” which always seemed to me the personification, in song form, of her former band. Maybe Potter was laying these songs to rest. She says she’ll have a new album out soon, so we’ll just have to wait and see how or whether she wants to continue to incorporate the old and the new. Saturday night was a reminder of Grace Potter’s immeasurable talent as a live performer, so here’s hoping she finds a way.

Fri, 11/17/2017 - 9:47 am

It was a different Lone Bellow that pulled into Boston on Wednesday night, for their first show in the city in two years. When they first broke on the scene some five years ago, The Lone Bellow’s live shows were marked by an irrepressible energy, as if they couldn’t believe they’d hit the big time and were determined to rock the rafters at every gig. But the endless road, and the business, and life have all served to temper the band, and they’re mining a different head space on their current tour, in support of their third album, the aptly titled Walk Into a Storm.

Brian Elmquist | House of Blues - Boston, MA

The album reflects the personal adversity the band has struggled with of late, including uprooting from Brooklyn and relocating to Nashville, the suicide of a close friend, and guitarist Brian Elmquist’s struggle with alcohol addiction. Their set list at the Boston show reflected this new mood as well. It was toned down, but also deeper and, in some ways, more emotional.

AThe Lone Bellow | Boston, MA

At first, I missed the old energy. It was hard not to – this is a band that radiated joy and positive energy from every stage they played from. But what began to emerge in its place was the strength of The Lone Bellow’s ballads and mid-tempo songs, including tunes like “Marietta” and “Looking for You,” “Diners” and “Lovely in Blue” – and, from the new album, “Come Break My Heart Again” and “Long Way to Go,” the latter a poignant ballad sung by a spotlit Elmquist alone at the piano, “burning a hole in the night.” None of these is a song of despair, but they carry a heavy weight and became anchors of a set list that spoke to the struggles and challenges faced even by the fortunate among us.

The Lone Bellow | House of Blues - Boston, MA

The emphasis on slower songs also had the effect of making the rockers, when they came, that much more of a release. There’s only so long that The Lone Bellow’s reverent frontman Zach Williams can be kept bottled up, and the absolute limit may be four or five songs. After that, he has to break loose, which he did with abandon on songs like “Heaven Don’t Call Me Home,” “Time’s Always Leaving” and “Green Eyes and a Heart of Gold.”

The Lone Bellow | Boston, MA

Over the course of two hours – 22 songs – The Lone Bellow made a case for facing the sorrow and heartache of life by neither turning away nor giving up. Their sad songs always have an undercurrent of resilience, their happy songs always a trace of pain. And their live shows remain as cathartic today as they were five long years ago.

The Lone Bellow | House of Blues | Boston, MA

Check out more photos from the show.

Sun, 07/22/2018 - 5:53 pm

Brandi Carlile and Jason Isbell’s summer tours crossed paths in Portland, Maine Saturday night, co-headlining a double bill at Thompson’s Point, a midsize outdoor venue on the banks of the city’s Fore River. Both artists were backed by their full bands, and each played a set of about an hour and 15 minutes before a sold-out crowd of close to 5,000.

Jason Isbell | Portland, Maine

Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit took the stage first, with the sun still lighting the stage and a hefty portion of the crowd still streaming in. Their set list leaned heavily on the band’s last two albums, 2017’s excellent The Nashville Sound and 2015’s Something More Than Free. After opening with “Hope The High Road,” “24 Frames” and “Something More Than Free,” Isbell & Co. started to hit their stride with “Last of My Kind,” the opening track on The Nashville Sound. The song is a sad lament from a country boy lost in the big city; on album, it’s a spare acoustic track, but live on stage it gets muscled up by Isbell and the five members of the 400 Unit.

Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit

Much of the rest of the set was similarly amped up, including “Cumberland Gap,” “Flying Over Water,” “Super 8” and Isbell’s classic “Cover Me Up,” which received a sonic boost from Chad Gamble’s two-fisted drumming. The set crested with a searing cover of Drive-By Truckers’ “Never Gonna Change,” which featured Isbell and guitarist Sadler Vaden trading solos. Fiddle player Amanda Shires, who has missed some 400 Unit dates this summer because of her own touring schedule, was with the band Saturday night, and colored nearly every song she touched with gold. As talented as the rest of the band is – and they’re very talented – it’s hard to imagine the 400 Unit without Shires in the mix, and thankfully that wasn’t the case at Thompson’s Point.

Jason Isbell | Thompson's Point

After a half-hour break to swap equipment, Brandi Carlile took the stage, backed by a 7-piece band and flanked, as always, by “the twins,” brothers Phil and Tim Hanseroth on bass and guitar, respectively. Surveying the full crowd spread out in the twilight across an open field, flanked by food and beer vendors, Carlile remarked that, “We’ve come a long way from touring around in a little van.”

Brandi Carlile | Thompson's Point

Carlile’s latest album, By The Way I Forgive You, has generated some of the best reviews she’s gotten over the last decade. The 10 songs on the album leave behind the youthful idealism that characterized Carlile’s earlier work in favor of a hard-earned sense of loss, heartache and, at the same time, perseverance.

Brandi Carlile | Portland, ME

Most of her set was given over to the new songs, opening with “Every Time I Hear That Song” – whose lyrics provide the album with its title – and closing with “Hold Out Your Hand.” She introduced “The Mother,” a song written after the birth of her daughter Evangeline four years ago, as a reflection on her own struggle to come to terms with motherhood. She followed with “The Joke,” a soaring piano ballad of alienation and exclusion. “This is for anyone who’s ever felt like a misfit,” she said. “Or an outsider. Or an illegal.”

Brandi Carlile and her band | Thompson's Point

For anybody still laboring under the impression that Brandi Carlile is a folk act, however, she and her band unleashed a string of raw rock-and-roll at the height of their set, starting with “Sugartooth” and the rave-up “Mainstream Kid” before coming out of left field with a blistering cover of “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” To be clear, a cover of the Led Zeppelin version of “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You,” not the Joan Baez version. Propelling this whole stretch was the beastly pounding of veteran drummer Chris Powell, who is relatively new to Carlile’s band. It’s as if Peter, Paul and Mary suddenly became Peter, Paul, Mary and John Bonham. As far as I’m aware, they’ve never tried this cover before, although Zep’s “Going to California” was a staple of Carlile’s set during last year’s tour.

Brandi Carlile | Thompson's Point

Other highlights included a sublime version of “The Eye,” perhaps the strongest track on 2015’s The Firewatcher’s Daughter, with the Hanseroth twins joining Carlile in three-part harmony, and “Whatever You Do,” whose chorus declares, “There’s a road left behind me that I’d rather not speak of/And a hard one ahead of me, too.”

Jason Isbell | Thompson's Point

Both Carlile and Jason Isbell and his band will be appearing at the Newport Folk Festival this coming weekend.

Mon, 09/17/2018 - 6:44 pm

Not much has been heard from Grace Potter since her appearance last year at her signature music festival, Grand Point North, a small-scale two-day fest staged on the edge of Lake Champlain in Burlington, Vermont. Potter was going through a host of personal changes in 2017 and had put music aside for much of the year. But she was back on stage this weekend, headlining both nights of the fest with a new – and very able – backing band, and debuting a handful of songs slated for a forthcoming album that Potter hopes to release in 2019. 

Grace Potter’s 15-year musical journey has taken a number of twists and turns, losing some fans on the way, gaining others. But the Grace Potter who commanded the stage over two nights in Vermont sounded like an artist turning back toward her roots.

Caroline Rose | Grand Point North

The undercard at Grand Point North featured an eclectic mix of up-and-coming and veteran artists, ranging from indie-folk bands like Mt. Joy, to pop acts like Caroline Rose, soul-rockers Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, Black Crowes spin-off The Magpie Salute, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats, and long-time troubadours Ani DiFranco and Jackson Browne.

Ani DiFranco | Grand Point North

Jackson Browne was clearly part of the draw for the crowd on the sold-out Saturday portion of the festival. It was a subdued set by the veteran singer, whose voice remains nearly as strong as it was in his prime. His set list leaned toward the wistful and contemplative, that of the artist looking back on his yesterdays. He covered Lowell George’s “Willin’” – “I’ve been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet, had my head stoved in, but I’m still on my feet, and I’m still…willin’.” Among his own classics, “Late for the Sky,” “The Pretender” and “Take It Easy” highlighted the hour-long set.

Jackson Browne | Grand Point North Festival

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats had the penultimate set Sunday evening; their vintage R&B sound a perfect fit for this festival’s fan base. With nearly an hour and a half to play, the band stormed through an extended set list that threw nearly everything they had at the dancing crowd. When they get cranking – on tunes like “You Worry Me,” “I Need Never Get Old,” “Trying So Hard Not to Know,” “Hey Mama,” “Tearing at the Seams” – there’s no better live rock-and-soul revue than Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats.

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats

Grace Potter’s Saturday and Sunday night headlining sets each had their own feel – Saturday a little more straight-ahead rock n’ roll, Sunday night a little more slinky.

The 35-year-old Vermont native was introduced Saturday evening by 77-year-old Bernie Sanders, the state’s “junior” Senator, who praised the singer’s long-standing commitment to racial and economic justice.

Bernie & Grace | Grand Point North

Clad in black jeans, boots, and brown suede jacket, Potter, seemed ready to rock from the get-go, launching straight into a rip-roaring “Medicine.” For a band and singer that have only played a handful of festival dates this year, the jumpstart was impressive.  They mixed songs from the four main Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ discs with a sprinkling from Grace’s solo album, 2015’s “Midnight.” The set hinged on a heartfelt version of “Apologies,” Grace at the piano, the song more than a decade old at this point, but made poignant anew by the breakup last year of her marriage to Nocturnals’ drummer Matt Burr. After that, she blasted through a closing stretch that included an appearance by Kenny Chesney for a cover of “You and Tequila” – not sure it counts as a cover when the artist you’re covering is singing with you – and towering versions of “Turntable” and “The Lion, The Beast, The Beat.”

Grand Point North Festival

The encore started soulful, with a rendition of John Prine’s classic “Angel From Montgomery,” in which Potter was joined midway through by Jackson Browne. The legendary singer stayed on for the rest of the encore, including a breezy “Doctor My Eyes,” a rollicking cover of Warren Zevon’s “Lawyers, Guns, and Money,” and a sing-along “Running on Empty” to close out the night.

Grace Potter | Burlington, VT

Potter lit a match to Sunday night’s set with a simmering “Look What We’ve Become” and the set never really dropped below low boil from there. “Ah Mary,” “Turntable,” “Medicine” and “Empty Heart” all showed up on both night’s set lists, but were different songs each night. If Saturday was a night out rocking and rolling with friends, Sunday was a one-night stand. Maybe that’s why Grace swapped the jeans for a black leather mini-skirt on night two.

Grace Potter | Grand Point North

She also dropped three new songs on the crowd, and all three elicited very positive reaction. The first, “Every Heartbeat,” had a distinctly country vibe, while “Back To Me” was a more straightforward rocker, and “Everyday Love” a midtempo tune that would’ve felt at home on a Fleetwood Mac album.

Grace Potter | Grand Point North

“You’re hearing the beginnings of what’s coming next,” Potter said from the stage, and while it may be too much to draw a bead on the upcoming album from three songs, I would suggest that long-time fans keep an ear peeled for its release, because odds are they’re going to like what they hear. Potter herself would probably resist the notion that she’s turning back toward anything, and that’s fair.  But based on a listen to the two full sets of music she delivered in the space of 24 hours this weekend, it was hard not to hear an artist tapping back into her soulful, country, rock-and-roll side. Even Potter’s cover of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind,” which followed on the heels of “Every Heartbeat,” sounded like something Aretha Franklin would have applauded.

Grand Point North Festival

The weekend closed on a high note, with Nathaniel Rateliff and Jackson Browne joining Potter and company for a rendition of “I Shall Be Released,” followed by an encore of two Grace Potter and the Nocturnals’ classics – “Stars” and “Paris” – and another anthemic “Running on Empty.”

For longtime fans, the taste of the new album Potter previewed this weekend bode well. Keep an eye on 2019.