The frustrating paradox of Grace Potter is that she’s a better songwriter than she is a performer and a better performer than she is a songwriter. Several of her songs have quietly become staples of shows like “American Idol” and “The Voice,” with contestants occasionally managing to reveal unexplored depths of both toughness and vulnerability. But she’s such a force of nature in concert that she reveals the limitations in her material by handily transcending them.
What it suggests is that Potter might not be the best interpreter of her own songs, but on Friday, the first of two nights at the Orpheum, she very nearly made it moot. The Vermont native’s command of the stage, honed on the road over the decade since she became a Boston-scene fixture, is practically second nature to her, even with a new six-piece, two-drummer band featuring only one holdover from her longtime backup crew, the Nocturnals.
And even with new material that diverges from the searching Americana and tough ’70s/’80s-style hard rock on which Potter built her brand. The percolating Eurodisco shudder of “Hot To The Touch” signaled new itches that she scratched with the clipped drums fueling the frisky dance beats of “Alive Tonight,” “Your Girl,” and “Delirious.” But they still came off with the ease and conviction of songs that she’s been performing for ages.
The new band was less shaggy than the amiable Nocturnals, locking into the tight Pat Benatar punch of “Never Go Back” and then cracking it wide open in “Timekeeper.” The fiery “The Lion The Beast The Beat” took no prisoners, forging the band into a single, roaring animal that then turned closer “Paris (Ooh La La)” inside out a number of ways over the course of 10 minutes.
Potter herself, meanwhile, casually thrived even on the extremes. When she held back on the final line of the first chorus of “Stars” and the light strumming of her acoustic guitar dropped to barely perceptible levels, the whole place seemed to hold its breath. And on a stomping, foreboding “Nothing But the Water,” Potter and drummer Matt Musty made like a gender-swapped White Stripes, filling every corner of the theater with nothing but drums, distorted guitar, and especially her voice.
With an anguished rasp falling somewhere between Bobby Womack and James Brown and a copper-sequined tiger-print shirt, Charles Bradley opened with horn-inflected ’70s soul that played like a scrappier reflection of labelmate Sharon Jones.
Grace Potter, with Charles Bradley And His Extraordinaires
At: Orpheum Theatre, Friday, repeats SatudayMarc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this review incorrectly listed the name of the drummer for Grace Potter’s band.