Singer, songwriter, guitarist and keyboardist Grace Potter gracefully prowled the stage during her sold-out show at Revolution Live in Fort Lauderdale on Saturday, displaying the soaring vocal range and instrumental prowess necessary to bear comparisons to female-fueled pop/rock forebearers like Heart, the Pretenders, and Fleetwood Mac.
Potter’s band included two female members (keyboardist/guitarist/vocalist Eliza Hardy Jones, drummer/vocalist Jordan West) to balance its two male musicians (guitarist/vocalist Benny Yurco, bassist/vocalist Kurtis Keber). And the Vermont-born bandleader’s material goes in even more different directions — including R&B, country, and gospel — than those three Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees.
Many of the tunes within Potter’s South Florida appearance were from her 2019 album Daylight, including her set’s powerful opening title track. Yet the crowd soon became noticeably divided between fans of Potter’s solo career, which also includes her 2015 release Midnight, and those clamoring for material from her preceding decade-plus act, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals.
“I’m so happy to be back in Fort Lauderdale,” Potter, 36, said afterward. “My parents are here, but not to see me. They’re here because it’s so cold in Vermont! I’d forgotten how beautifully spicy it gets down here.”
Many of the evening’s most flavorful spices were actually provided by Daylight tracks. The Motown-ish ballad “Love Is Love” featured octave-climbing, Bonnie Raitt-like vocal phrasing by Potter and the soulful backing harmonies of Jones and West; “Repossession” brought a country twang to the evening via the versatile Jones switching from her primary keyboard to form a guitar trio with Potter and Yurco, and the strutting funk of “Desire” showcased more textured harmonies by the quintet.
The statuesque bandleader performed on keyboards and a variety of guitars through the night, eventually including playing slide guitar on her electric Gibson “Flying V” model. Her 12-string acoustic playing on the rhythmic Midnight track “Empty Heart” provided another highlight. Yet Potter going solo and disbanding the Nocturnals not only created a divide in her sizable fan base, but brought unintended comparisons to the careers of the three aforementioned distaff acts, all of which battled to carry on when inter-band couples formed and the relationships failed.
The Nocturnals were founded in 2002 by Potter and drummer Matt Burr, who also became her longtime romantic partner and eventual husband in 2013. But by the time she and Burr started recording Midnight with producer and multi-instrumentalist Eric Valentine, the couple was on the outs and headed toward divorce. Potter later married Valentine, and the two now have a 2-year-old son named Sagan.
Inherent drama among Potter’s attending fans was eased by late Nocturnals gems like the dramatic ballad “Stars” and vibrant rocker “Stop the Bus,” and the two-hour set concluded with a series of encores that included another Nocturnals favorite, the church-inspired ballad “Low Road.” It featured a cameo by Nashville-based vocalist/guitarist Devon Gilfillian, whose quartet had opened the show with a sharp, soulful 45-minute run through original compositions that echoed influences from Al Green to Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Yet the most poignant encore was Potter’s solo rendition of “Release,” from Daylight. Spotlit alone at the keyboards, she played and sang an impassioned plea for forgiveness (“I release you from holding on to the bridge I burned … from the love that we swore was true/I hope that someday the sun will shine again, and you’ll release me too.”).
The ode to Burr could also apply to some Nocturnals fans. The attendees who enjoy Potter’s more recent solo work also seemed appreciative of the catalog of her former band, but not so much vice versa. Thankfully for her, Potter has both a sizable enough audience, and relatively recent crisis management skills, to withstand such disparity.