Well, there are concerts and then there are rock concerts. This past Thursday night,
Montreal played host to Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. On tour to promote their
recently released album, The Lion The Beast The Beat, it became clear from the moment
they struck their very first chord as to why this band is reputed to have one of the most
highly charged, hard driving and best live acts in the business. With a front woman who
is seriously sexy, this group leaves absolutely everything on stage in a performance that
is entirely unhooked from the very beginning to the very end.
And yet in the afterglow, I couldn’t help but wonder whether there would be many
more evenings like this. I think it’s safe to say that there will always be live music but
it’s becoming increasingly less clear these days as to whether there will always be live
rock music. It’s difficult to dispute the fact that guitar-based bands are on the decline
and that rock and roll, as a compelling force within contemporary music, seems to be
quickly disappearing. According to Billboard Magazine, the number of rock songs on
the singles charts fell from 10 percent in 2008, to 4 percent in 2010 and to an astounding
and dangerously anemic 2 percent in 2012. The demise of this genre couldn’t have been
more evident with the announcement of this year’s Grammy nominations for Best Rock
Performance, which strangely included the oh-so-folksy Mumford & Sons. Don’t get me
wrong, it isn’t that this band doesn’t make great music, I’m just not sure that the music
they make could be fairly described as rock music.
So what if it’s true? What if rock and roll is dying and we are quickly approaching the
end of an era? Does it matter and should any of us care? I was reminded this past week,
as I was out on the floor watching Grace Potter and the Nocturnals rock out like the best
of them … that it really does and we really should. There is something deeply soulful,
wonderfully primal and disarmingly honest about rock music that no kind of sampler,
auto-tuner or other synthetic interface can ever touch. It has a stripped down human
element to it like few others and of course, as this band made very clear last Thursday
night, what else is going to make you move like that?
Hours before she took the stage at the Corona Theatre, Grace Potter sat down to answer a
few questions for the Daily about the tour, rock and roll and the best of all endings.
McGill Daily (MD): It’s been said that new tours are like new lovers with all of the thrill
and excitement that goes with that. From your perspective, what’s different about the
Roar Tour, not only in terms of the way it looks and the way it sounds, but also in the
way it feels?
Grace Potter (GP): Well this tour is special for a few reasons. For one thing, we’ve got a
badass light rig with mirror balls and a fog machine! More importantly, for every show
on this tour, we invite our fans to make song requests through Twitter – which doesn’t
seem very rock & roll, but has been a great way to hear what the fans want. It’s always
cool to hear the songs you request and it’s great for the band … keeps us on our toes.
MD: You probably know the statistics better than I do, but last year there were only two
rock songs on Billboard’s top 100 singles chart. Where have all the rock and rollers gone
and why do you think this genre is so anemic at the moment?
GP: I was just having a conversation with someone about this – I really don’t know much
about the industry … I think Rock & Roll had it’s heyday, there were some amazing
breakthroughs and then it kinda became a circus. The excesses were obviously fun to
watch and read about – but at a certain point in the mid 90’s, I think people just didn’t
buy the bullshit anymore. That’s not to say that all rock is dead and gone, but the general
perception might be a bit tainted. There are plenty of rock bands that have shaken off that
larger-than-life scene and just gotten back to making good music, but it’ll take a second to
earn our way back up the rungs … or maybe we just don’t care about top 40 anymore:)
MD: Have you had the chance to watch the new documentary film Sound City yet?
What do you think has been lost in the evolution from analog to digital recording, if
anything? Is there perfection to be found in little imperfections or is that just a means of
GP: I have not had a chance to watch … but I’ve had lots of conversations about digital
vs. analog. I think there should always be little imperfections in music, but I’m not
completely opposed to digital recording. There’s a time and a place for it. At the end of
the day though, great musicians playing great old gear straight to tape just sounds better.
It’s not supernatural.
MD: Neil Young once said that rock and roll is not about survival. Ultimately, rock
careers like all careers come to an end. Although its a long way off for you, what’s your
position on the underlying sentiment in Neil Young’s Hey Hey My My: namely, is it
better to burn out as Young would have us believe or is it better to fade away, which was
ironically and of course tragically, John Lennon’s preference?
GP: I love that song. Neil is certainly still going strong. Hmm. Is it better to burn out
than to fade away? I’ve never been a fan of fade-outs on albums…it’s like the party’s still
going but you’ve been ushered out the door against your will. I love cross-fades though
– cause you get to stay at the party and just move from room to room … so I’m gonna
throw that metaphor into my career arc. If I had to choose how things would end, they
wouldn’t. I’d just wander into a new party.