Friday, July 21, 2006


Grace notes in Central Park

Umphrey's McGee and Galactic might have been the co-headliners for last night's concert in New York's Central Park as part of the Summerstage series, but I was principally there to see opener, Vermont's Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, one of my favorite new bands. Despite playing a brief half-hour set, those who arrived by 6 pm caught one of the finest voices to appear on the music scene in many years.

Like Susan Tedeschi and Shannon McNally, Potter channels the great growly female blues-rock predecessors, Bonnie Rait and Janis Joplin. On the title track of the Nocturnals' second and latest album, Nothing But the Water, Potter climbed octaves like an opera singer. But, comping away at her B-3 organ, she oozed pure soul. Accompanied by Scott Tournet on guitar, Bryan Dondero on bass and the heavily-sideburned Matthew Burr on drums, Potter adeptly shifted gears and instruments (she also plays slide guitar). Besides the miniscule set, the only disappointment was that the Nocturnals didn't dig more into the material from the new album.

In the 50-minute second slot, New Orleans-based funksters Galactic offered jazzy versions of "Manic Depression" and "When the Levee Breaks." Chicago's Umphrey's McGee finished off the concert with a nearly two-hour set, showing off their precision playing that often veers into prog-rock territory. Though they lack a powerful frontman like Trey Anastasio, Umphrey's are top-notch Phish-style jammers. Oh, and by the way, they covered "Won't Get Fooled Again."


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