Lacy Landre

Grace Potter and Langhorne Slim rouse the Pabst

Langhorne Slim provided a raucous opening act, while Grace Potter pulled out every trick in the book for a powerful, multifaceted performance.

By - Jan 21st, 2013 06:45 pm

Grace Potter & The Nocturnals with Langhorne Slim & The Law at the Pabst Theater. All photos by Melissa Miller.

One of the most distinct traits of being from the Midwest can be a curse or blessing depending on the situation: my downfall is that I’m too honest and/or terrible at lying. With that, I’m going to admit I never listened to Grace Potter before. I went to the Pabst Theater last night to see Langhorne Slim. I left thoroughly impressed with Grace.

Grace Potter took the stage forcefully just before 9:30, walking out alone, loudly sliding out chords on her signature flying V guitar while belting out the lyrics to “Nothing But The Water” to a screaming audience. The song sounded like an eerie marriage of P.J. Harvey’s dark “Down By The Water” and Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs.” Potter’s band, The Nocturnals, joined her for the second half of the song, driving through it and into “Ah Mary.”

I never would have expected such a roaring, dirty-yet-sultry voice to come out of Potter, a guitar on a set of legs. In doing my research, I read she was influenced by James Brown, but I couldn’t really grasp the connection from her studio work. It made sense in person. She’s got an insane set of pipes, a towering vocal range, and energy rivaling Tina Turner on stage. Potter’s witchy conjuring was accented by her 4-inch heels (which she eventually threw off stage during their cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit”), short black dress with long iridescent batwings and the excess of dancing and headbanging, mirrored in the crowd.

Potter is also a talented multi-instrumentalist, switching between keys and guitar fluently and easily blending genres (prominently soul, modern country) and vocal techniques I never would have thought to combine. At times I could hear a bit of Candi Staton’s soul, Dolly Parton’s high-pitched twang, and maybe a little of Joan Jett’s grit all mixed into one song.

“Turntable’s” driving beat put me in mind of Kenny Loggins’s “Danger Zone” (which I couldn’t get out of my head for a while after), and “Goodbye Kiss” had elements of reggae but sounded like it could have almost been a Gwen Stefani ska ballad at the same time. Also among the tunes on the 15-song set were “Keepsake,” “Joey,” “Things I Never Needed” (which they busted out a lap steel guitar for), “Here’s to the Meantime,” “Paris,” and “Stars.” The encore was introduced with a recording of the 20th-Century Fox trumpet fanfare, leading into “The Lion The Beast The Beat” and “Medicine.”

Potter knows how to confidently claim the stage. Her strangely versatile voice yields the power of a person well beyond her 29 years, which somewhat explained the demographic of the attendees: It was all over the map. College kids, dreadlocked 30-somethings, and distinguished couples joining me up in the nosebleeds all equally appreciated the show.

I was pleased to see that group enjoying Langhorne Slim as much as I do. Slim (aka Sean) and his band, The Law, opened the night raucously at 8 p.m. sharp. Malachi, their drummer, is the son of Victor DeLorenzo of our humble city’s Violent Femmes fame. David Moore and Jeff Ratner (keyboards/banjo and upright bass, respectively) round out the four-piece band.

Slim’s distinct edge-of-a-nervous-breakdown sounding voice should in every sense be annoying, but it’s just the opposite. It’s one-of-a-kind, mesmerizing and passionate, and fitting to his smart, underlying lyrics. It’s melodical, lilty, and just… weird. Beautifully weird.

Assuming much of the audience was actually there to see Grace Potter and hadn’t heard his music, Slim did an impressive job of backwoods-style stomping and yelling during songs like “Found My Heart” and “This Is The Way We Move,” spurring the room into clapping and singing along, Southern Baptist revival-style. During “Song For Sid,” all I could think is that he was jumping up and down like a kid who was holding out on a secret he desperately wanted to tell, and the crowd silently awaited it.

For the finale of their 11-song set, Slim set his guitar down and sat on the edge of the stage. “Past Lives,” started out slow with a short loungey keyboard solo, but ended with Langhorne screaming ‘I ain’t dead’ repeatedly and sliding offstage to walk through the crowd.

It seems Langhorne Slim rarely tours solo or performs outside of festivals anymore, so catch him when you can. He’ll be back in Milwaukee again at Turner Hall on April 13th (opening for Lucero).

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