Show Review: Grace Potter Lights Up the Night in Milwaukee with Devon Gilfillian

Show Reviews

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Grace Potter’s Daylight 2020 Tour

What can you say about Grace Potter that’s not been said before? Brilliant and immensely talented?—check. Best singer-songwriter of this century?—done. Amazing vocals?—unmistakable. Versatile?—obvious. Warm, personable and relatable?—indeed.

She has played with, well, everybody. Potter is equally at home shredding a guitar, dancing over a keyboard, or crooning a loving ballad with a microphone while holding an audience in thrall. Mere mortals cannot adequately describe Grace Potter’s talent and appeal.

Grace Potter is approaching legendary status. She began gathering a devoted fan base with her band, The Nocturnals, early this century. Her music career has been filled with successful collaborations contributing to her growth and development as a talented and versatile singer-songwriter. Potter crosses genres with ease flitting from country twangs to guitar-shredding rock and roll.

Since the breakup of The Nocturnals in 2015, Potter has released two solo efforts—the pop-oriented Midnight in 2015 and her newest release, Daylight, in 2019. Perhaps a metaphorical transition from darkness to the light, Daylight embodies the transitions in Potter’s life—the breakup of her former band, her divorce from Nocturnals drummer, Matt Burr, her new relationship and marriage to Midnight producer Eric Valentine, and the joys and tribulations of motherhood.

Potter brought her touring band to a packed house at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee early in February in support of Daylight. From the moment she walked on stage, the crowd continually showed their affection for this amazing talent. The audience ages ranged from the 20’s to the 60’s—reflecting the breadth of Potter’s fan base.

The band led off with the song “Daylight”—with a wild, high-energy beginning that transitioned into a slower soulful number as Potter sang “I’ve been lost and found and lost again so many times I can’t remember if I ever knew my way at all.”

Potter shared many remembrances during the concert, as well as providing insights into the transitions in her life. She recalled her first appearance at the Pabst, opening for Taj Mahal in 2004, and how she loves coming back to the theater. Admitting to having early performer jitters, she described advice received from Taj Mahal that she shouldn’t be “fishin’ for fans, just catchin’ the ones who come.” And catch them she has.

The set featured songs spanning Potter’s entire musical career. Leading into “Big White Gate,” Potter described how childbirth gave her additional context into a song reflecting on the end of hard-living life and a plea to Saint Peter—“I ain’t no holy roller but you go tell your king–That all the folks up in heaven might like to hear me sing.

Potter demonstrated her versatility during the show, varying the tempo from slow soulful moments to high-kicking (literally) guitar shreds. Her voice is nothing short of amazing, demonstrating subtlety and softly singing directly to your heart to in-your-face raging that brings you to your feet.

Potter noted that “Back to Me,” a new song on Daylight, was inspired by a combination of Linda Ronstadt’s “You’re No Good,” Carole King, Jackson Browne and the Eagles. As she said, “It’s not exactly plagiarism, but ……” To this reviewer, Potter’s style and sound brought a comparison with Rhiannon Giddens as she sings of heartbreak—“I really don’t know what you need—But I don’t think that it’s me—And you never can tell where love leads—but it don’t lead back to me.”

At one point in the show, a fan set shots on the stage for Potter and all the members of her band. As she passed them out, Potter toasted and said, “If there are groupies here, it’s not my fault!” Not her fault, but certainly a tribute to her charms!

Declaring that the shots were a sign for some rock and roll, Potter and the band launched into a fan favorite, “Paris,” where she showed the range of her edgy vocals.

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Devon Gilfillian—Upbeat R&B

Nashville-based Devon Gilfillian opened for Grace Potter, bringing his soul-infused stylings to the stage. Growing up in Philadelphia, Gilfillian’s music represents a blend of his childhood exposure to Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder and Otis Redding, with more modern influences of Kanye West and Wu-Tang Clan.

Gilfillian aptly warmed up the crowd on a chilly Wisconsin night, demonstrating his guitar talents and connecting with the audience in his personable, outgoing approach.

Gilfillian has been appearing with his band since 2016 and has opened for diverse acts including Keith Urban, Gladys Knight and Mavis Staples. He released an EP in 2016 and released his debut album, Black Hole Rainbow, in January on Capitol Records.

Devon Gilfillian joined Grace Potter on stage for a sweet and soulful rendition of the Etta James’ classic “I’d Rather Go Blind.” The song reprised Potter’s cover that appeared on the 2018 compilation album, Muscle Shoals … Small Town, Big Sound.

Potter gave her personal kudos to newer artists like Gilfillian and the hard work involved in making a name and gathering fans through constant touring. As she said, “touring is not for the faint of heart and is much more difficult than it used to be.” Potter also treasures her audiences, noting that there are lots of reasons why people might not be able to attend a concert, including as she said, “dealing with dog crap in the corner.”

Potter closed the show in a personal and poignant manner with “Release.” Appearing on Daylight, the song was co-written with Mike Busby, who contributed to many of the songs on the album. Busby suffered from a brain tumor and passed soon after the album’s release in mid-October 2019. The song represents her message to anyone who wants a sense of closure for personal heartbreak and love lost.

Grace Potter commented frequently on her personal journey over the past ten years. While a decade ago, she might have raged at someone crossing her, now she says she’s more likely to say, “gee, did you have your lunch today?” Much of this personal growth appears due to her motherhood, which has had a profound impact on her experience and life outlook.

But while her journey has influenced her music, don’t think she’s become just a mellow ballad singer. Grace Potter still brings a lot of bad-assery on demand!

Check out Grace Potter’s website for her 2020 tour dates for a nearby show: https://www.gracepotter.com/ And give Black Hole Rainbow a listen for a sampling of Devon Gilfillian’s talents: https://www.devongilfillian.com/mobile/

GRACE POTTER SET LIST
THE PABST THEATER—MILWAUKEE, WI
2/6/2020

DAYLIGHT
EMPTY HEART
NEVER GO BACK
LOVE IS LOVE
TIMEKEEPER
EVERYDAY LOVE
HERE’S TO THE MEANTIME
BOWIE TRIBUTE
BACK TO ME
YOUR GIRL
BIG WHITE GATE
I’D RATHER GO BLIND W/ DG
REPOSESSION
NBTW 1 & 2
THE LION THE BEAST THE BEAT
PARIS

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