At first glance, the Saenger Theatre doesn’t look like a natural venue choice for a rock concert from the likes of Grace Potter. It’s an historic 1920s theater whose interior design looks like an elaborate nod to the Rococo style, all floral carvings and pseudo-rose windows. Regular host to symphony orchestra performances, the theater cultivates a classical sensibility, with the result being an overwhelmingly staid atmosphere. Even the volunteer ushers for the evening were septuagenarians, one of whom periodically did Jane Fonda stair-steppers at the theater entrance throughout the night (I kid you not). All of this was in sharp contrast to the crowd of 1600 people come to see Potter’s Magical Midnight Roadshow, hot off a Mardi Gras parade that delayed the actual start of the concert by 45 minutes (band and attendees had to grab that bead).

Eliza Hardy Jones, Potter’s keyboardist and opening act, had the thankless task of bridging this cultural mishmash first. Case in point: Jones actually had to encourage the crowd to be louder and get into the performance. “I can hear your conversations,” she confessed before mimicking an audience member’s gasp of “Well, she’s just adorable!” Promoting her new solo album Because Become, Jones offered up 30 minutes of music that blended classic piano pop and ambient sounds. While she never strayed from behind her keyboard, Jones did showcase her more traditional piano skills as well as her ear for electric soundscapes and guitar handling. Unsurprisingly, Jones’ greatest asset is her powerful, emotive voice. She does, after all, provide backing vocals for Grace Potter.

To add to the parade delay, the intermission between Jones and Potter was 30 minutes of a funk/80s hits playlist that began with Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax.” Not necessarily the message you want to send to a seated crowd that isn’t fully in concert mode yet. Thank God Grace Potter has a knack for getting audiences on their feet. At 9 o’clock, Potter waltzed onto the stage, sparkling in glittery, skin-tight jeans and launched into ”Hot to the Touch,” the funky, hook-heavy opener to her latest album Midnight. Following raucous renditions of “Empty Heart” and “Biggest Fan,” Potter told the audience they could sit if they wanted to – an odd capitulation from such an energetic frontwoman but one that needed to be voiced in a venue that has no clear space for stage crowding. But at the same time, Potter announced that she would be throwing the fistful of beads hooked to her belt throughout the show to the naughtiest in the audience.

Midnight closer “Let You Go” marked the start of Potter’s slow-burner section of the concert. The performance highlighted the sheer range of Potter’s voice, from airy cooing to belting at the finale. The country-tinged “Nobody’s Born With a Broken Heart” saw Potter pick up her acoustic and feed off of guitarist Benny Yurco’s incredible fretwork. Yurco, it should be noted, spent most of the concert standing in front of a meticulously placed fan that gave him fabulous wind-swept hair. The man knows how to guarantee flawless pictures. But with the start of the chugging riff on “Turntable,” Potter made it clear that this was, in fact, a rock concert. “I’ve decided the seated portion of the show is over,” she declared as about 100 people rushed the stage. Bathed in purple light, Potter stood at the edge of the stage like a Mardi Gras queen receiving gifts of beads from fawning fans and doling out plenty in kind. This particular live rendition of “Turntable” verged on the 10-minute mark, with the song in turns deconstructed to industrial wailing and amped up to full pop as Potter jumped in unison with the chorus of “Jump up down up down/ Down down baby.”

As she did at the beginning of the concert, Potter chose to close things out with a trio of her best tracks from Midnight, starting with “Alive Tonight.” The irresistible dance track translates incredibly well to a live performance, and even one hour plus into the show Potter’s voice still held its own against shrieking guitars.
“Your Girl” followed suit, its funky bass line thankfully not overwhelmed by Matt Musty’s drums. An extended take on “Delirious” served as the “finale,” but Potter and co. returned to the stage, met with a deafening roar from the crowd, and launched into a three-song encore. Potter had been exchanging flowing shawls throughout the night, but my favorite was hands down her final choice: a flared number that made it look like she had skinned a rainbow caterpillar.

The actual finale was no surprise. Potter and her band ended on the obligatory “Paris (Ooh La La),” because there was no way she was leaving without playing her biggest hit. But, for the most part, Potter focused on songs from Midnight and only dipped into her back catalogue for the essentials like “Stars,” “The Lion The Beast The Beat” and “Low Road” (here performed exquisitely with only Yurco in accompaniment). To Potter’s credit, she was epically vamping it up for a solid two hours, effortlessly ripping away everyone’s reservations about full-out thrashing at the symphony.

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