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Adele does not have the best voice in music. Nor does Beyoncé, Ariana Grande, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Mariah Carey, or any other pop superstar you might have pictured in your mind.
No, the best voice in music belongs to a woman many probably do not know. She’s Robert Plant good. Freddie Mercury good. She’s, dare I say, Aretha Franklin good.
The best voice on planet earth right now belongs toGrace Potter.
Potter recently threw down a two-and-a-half hour rock show for the ages at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. With nary an empty seat in the house, she took to the stage like a hurricane, leaving no one unaffected in her wake. She was a mystical flower child spinning and twirling in a haze of fog in front of a giant screen projecting stars and galaxies behind her. She ran around the stage, jumped up and down with the beat, cajoling the fans onto their feet before settling into position.
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Then, planted firmly at center stage, arms outstretched wide to her sides, she seemed to begin absorbing power from the universe itself, drawing in energy from everyone in the room. Her hand reached to the sky, channeling every last drop of force the ether could muster. You could feel the galactic storm building inside her. The power trapped within her body, yearning to be unleashed.
After a deep breath, she opened her mouth and unleashed a tsunami of righteous sound. It was a miracle the speakers didn’t instantaneously combust from the force of her voice. With her band creating an often ethereal soundscape as prelude to the sonic detonation, she would repeatedly shatter the auditory dream state with a nuclear explosion of unadulterated vocal power.
Fear not for the future of music – the Gods of Rock have seen fit to grace us with Grace.
The gathering storm
Grace Evelyn Potter was born in the small town of Waitsfield, Vermont, to parents involved in the woodworking craft. She went to St. Lawrence University, where she met Matt Burr, a drummer who convinced Potter to form a band with him (they’ve been bandmates ever since and married in May of 2013). After her sophomore year, Potter dropped out of college to pursue music professionally.
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For the first decade-plus of her career, Potter was the frontwoman for the relatively successful and uber-talented Grace Potter & the Nocturnals.
The band released three studio albums from 2007 to 2012, with the single “Paris (Ooh La La)” receiving widespread commercial airplay. Their brand of raw, soulful rock struck a chord with audiences across America, and the group began headlining 1,000 to 1,500 person venues.
From the beginning, it was obvious Potter had a major-league voice. Their third album, the aptly titled “The Lion, the Beast, the Beat,” showcases the lion’s roar within the diva; but, it wasn’t until her first solo studio album, “Midnight,” released August 14th of this year, that she uncaged the full fury of the beast within.
On first listen, “Midnight”left me wanting more. As a longtime follower of Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – and a deep lover of their soulful rock sound – I wasn’t sold on the turn toward pop rock Potter had taken sans Nocturnals.
But, as I got past the pop trappings adorning the album, I discovered the raw power hidden within the tracks. “Hot to the Touch,” “Alive Tonight,” and “Delirious” are raucous dance rock anthems sure to get you moving. “Look What We’ve Become” and “Instigators” are pop-punk tunes with some dirty grit. Other tracks like “Empty Heart,” “The Miner,” “Low,” “Nobody’s Born With a Broken Heart,” and “Let You Go” deliver soulful songs in different musical veins, but all are good to excellent tunes sure to speak to listeners’ hearts.
But, “Delirious” demonstrates what makes Potter so special.
Around the song’s three-minute mark, it descends into an experimental, trance-like interlude common to many Led Zeppelin opuses (e.g., “Whole Lotta Love“).At this point, many digging the pop-y vibe of the album so far might be tempted to press fast-forward, but exploding out the other side of the musical meander at3:57is a guitar solo for the ages, except it’s not a guitar squealing in the upper registers… it’s Potter’s voice doing the shredding.
The producer doubles a soloing guitar with Potter as she reaches stratospheric levels of pitch and volume, and the two instruments sound almost as one. The outro of the song is Potter’s voice alone, and you can be forgiven if you thought it was actually a guitar ending the song. I’ve never heard a voice used like this before because no other voice could do what she just did.
Radio City Music Hall
After listening to the album on repeat for the two days leading up to the show, I was terrified Potter wouldn’t unleash the full force of her voice as heard on “Midnight.” But then I remembered, she’s one of the best performers I’ve ever seen.
I had the privilege of attending a Grace Potter & the Nocturnals show at the House of Blues in Dallas, Texas, a few years ago. On the floor it was standing room only, and my friends and I arrived as early as allowed to get a spot right against the stage. I had never seen someone dominate a room the way she did that night.
From the moment she walked on stage to the instant the “get the hell out” lights came up after she exited, the audience stood transfixed, completely under her spell. Her combination of sultry sexuality, unbridled energy, deep emotion and raw power took hold of everyone in attendance.
- Andrew Stern
I didn’t get quite the same feeling on Saturday.
Potter and her band gave every bit the Dallas performance and more, but the room was ill suited to her gifts. As so perfectly described by my girlfriend, “When you see Grace Potter live, you want to be in her aura.”
With a stage so massive and a floor full of nothing but seats, I felt oddly detached from the virtuoso performance Potter gave.I wanted to be in general admission, standing room only, shoved against the stage, but the classic beauty and dignified luxury of the music hall introduced an unwelcome physical distance between performer and audience.Potter and company gave one of the most impressive performances I’ve ever witnessed, but I wanted to be closer, enveloped in Potter’s presence.
My proximity jealousy notwithstanding, Potter turned in the best vocal performance I’ve ever heard. She is categorically the best vocalist alive right now, and she puts it to good use.
Despite the tinge of pop that crept into “Midnight,” it is an excellent album from an unrivaled musician. If you’re not familiar with her or her band, get on it. You’re missing out on a generational talent you’ll one day tell your grandkids about.
Potter has that special sauce that great performers all seem to possess. The Bowies and Plants and Mercuries of the world have an aura of sexuality, power, brilliance and otherworldliness. The stage’s galactic backdrop suited the performance beautifully because Potter channeled a force beyond this world.
In the song “The Lion, The Beast, The Beat,” Potter proclaims: “Somebody let the beast out baby!”
Did they ever.