Holiday Cheer for FUV Recap: 2023

Grace Potter (photo by Neil Swanson, PR)
by Kara Manning | 12/07/2023 | 1:45pm

Grace Potter (photo by Neil Swanson, PR)

See: Holiday Cheer Photo Album on Flickr

Every Holiday Cheer for FUV cooks with its own unmistakable personality — and at the Beacon Theatre on Wednesday night, December 6, that persona was pure extrovert, even in its quietest moments (of which there weren’t many). The station’s 17th benefit concert with The Gaslight Anthem, Grace Potter, Iron & Wine, and Thee Sacred Souls was a kaleidoscope of tour de force sets: lovelorn soul serenades, sage folk-rock, bawdy rockers, and muscular Jersey-strong moxie.

At the center was our ringmistress, the singer and songwriter (and former FUV Artist in Residence) Nicole Atkins, the essence of alacrity, shepherding along her own quirky cast of characters to entertain between set changes. The entire evening was, to paraphrase a heartfelt declaration by Potter during her set, evidence of FUV’s steadfast conviction to support musicians and creators as their “true selves.”

The passing of Irish songwriter and force of nature Shane MacGowan, on November 30, led to a couple of nuanced tributes to the former Pogues frontman — Atkins came onstage as two of her bandmates for the night, pianist Dave Sherman and saxophonist Paula Henderson, launched into the mournful intro of “Fairytale of New York.” While the song was never sung, the shambolic spirit of MacGowan’s chaotic couple was definitely on Nicole’s mind. Throughout the night, she maintained an ongoing gag with comedian Jim Turner, best known as “Randee of the Redwoods," MTV’s seriously stoned mascot of the late '80s; tossed hard candy to the crowd with Wonka-level commitment (something about the sweets alleviating anxiety); and brought out bandleader and former FUV host Binky Griptite for a duet on his own song-as-axiom, “Don’t Be an A***ole.”

Thee Sacred Souls is a trio — vocalist Josh Lane, drummer Alex Garcia, and bassist Sal Samano — but the Southern California band trebled in size on the Beacon Theatre stage, with guitarist Shay Stultz, keyboardist Riley Dunn, backing singers Tatiana Turrentine and Jillian Willis, and midway in the set, a brass trio. Lane exudes cool charisma while crooning queries of romantic vexation, from the unrequited longing of “Will I See You Again?” to “Can I Call You Rose?,” his hand casually anchored behind his back as if caught in an intimate soliloquy. Lane’s falsetto is a honeyed marvel: awash in sweet urgency and vulnerability as he directed songs like “Lady Love” and “Trade of Hearts,” both from Thee Sacred Souls’ acclaimed 2022 self-titled debut album, to the audience as if they were wary Juliet as he played a pained, pensive Romeo.

In a set of soulful highlights, “Running Away” was the acme as Lane jogged into the audience, turning metaphor into action and making his way up and down the aisles of the Beacon — singing, sitting with the crowd, and living the lyrics (and his best life). All the while, the crack rhythm section of Garcia and Samano and the balance of the band maintained an effusive, funked-out pace. There’s a summertime languor to Thee Sacred Souls’ music — like a happy memory of cavorting on a beach on an August afternoon — and that warmth and communal energy made for a deft, convivial set.

Returning after a decade to be a Holiday Cheer guest again — he headlined in 2013 with friends Calexico, Glen Hansard, Beth Orton, and others — Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam kept things stripped-back and simple with a solo performance, juggling between a couple of guitars and minimal banter. Beam is a master of mesmerizing intimacy and his set reflected what makes him such a compelling focal point in director Josh Sliffe's concert documentary, “Who Can See Forever,” and on its accompanying soundtrack. Beam stepped into his set with a key song and live single from that collection, “Thomas County Law,” but he interpolated it with what he told FUV in a recent Q&A was a favorite Christmas carol, “Little Drummer Boy.”

Specters of carols segueing to an Iron & Wine composition continued: “Silent Night” melted into “Father Mountain” from Years to Burn, his 2019 collaboration with Calexico, and a wryly barbed “Here Comes Santa Claus” was unwrapped to become a fully-formed “Call It Dreaming” from 2017’s Beast Epic. A benevolent, bearded figure in head-to-toe black, Beam assumed the role of droll philosopher this evening. His brief but impactful set was thoughtfully woven with songs that delved into darker December ruminations, as the end of the year approaches. Accountability for what has passed and what lies ahead skittered through his set, as in “Call It Dreaming,” a poignant farewell, whether to a person or a chaotic year. “Where we pray when our hearts are strong enough,” Beam sang, “We can bow, 'cause our music's warmer than blood.”

The heat of the moment in music certainly propelled Grace Potter and her band who had a set mission: to make every single person at the Beacon Theatre stand up and rock out with hot abandon. Potter, who led her band the Nocturnals for years before setting out on her own solo journey, was very much at the wheel navigating her own Mother Road, the title of her latest album. She dived headlong into a rapturously raucous and profane set — Potter loudly rued her red sequined mini-dress, bought cheap at a Bloomingdale's outlet, with plenty of creatively cussy missives. But this Vermont native knows how to motivate a crowd and Potter got her wish as the Cheer audience rose and danced to bluesy, thunderous prayers to partying like “Ready Set Go” and “Good Time.”

Potter, drummer Jordan West, guitarist Indya Bratton, guitarist Ricky Dover Jr., and bassist Kurtis Keber attacked each song with feverish, bluesy ardor, including a vintage Grace Potter and the Nocturnals track, “Ah Mary” from 2007’s This is Somewhere, during which the hard-rocking frontwoman wailed on her Gibson Flying V guitar. (Although Grace delivered the radio edit version of “Good Time” initially, she retraced her steps later to add the missing breastfeeding lyric from the album version as a standalone coda, for any Potter purists keeping score.)

Potter spoke glowingly about WFUV’s early support of her career and that of all of the artists on the stage last night, enthusing that the station was “the one place where things don’t change,” and musicians are unequivocally supported over the stretch of a career. In FUV’s recent “What I’m Grateful For '' feature, Potter also spoke of a song that altered her life, “Stars,” found on her 2012 album with the Nocturnals, The Lion the Beast the Beat. She closed out her set with that song, its lyrics roughed up with the brusque, fiery energy of the evening, but landing poignantly just the same. Potter and her band clearly relished their time on Beacon stage and made the most of every minute.

Although Nicole Atkins teased reading a three-page holiday poem to the crowd, she announced The Gaslight Anthem instead — definitely New Jersey poetry with a punch. The band tumbled onstage to Shane MacGowan and the Pogues’ “If I Should Fall From Grace with God,” a sentimental nod to a legend and influence. (A cheeky image of Hall & Oates, going through their own legal tempest, adorned drummer Benny Horowitz’s kit.)

Frontman Brian Fallon, who wore his heart on his denim-clad sleeve, plays both the hero and fool in his songs. There's also a mighty good reason why the New Brunswick-born band has “gas” and “anthem” in their name. Their set was a high-speed chase with stadium-sized aspirations, kicking off with  “Positive Charge,” from 2023’s History Books, and “Old White Lincoln” from 2008’s The ‘59 Sound.

Fallon’s between-song patter was generous with non sequiturs too. “Mulholland Drive” from 2012’s Handwritten swerved into a rhapsodic aside about the Tedeschi Trucks Band (bound for another residency at the Beacon the winter of 2024), while “History Books,” which includes personal hero Bruce Springsteen on the album version, elicited a boisterous tale of eating with Bruce at a Freehold pizza joint.

But it’s the brawny playing and sincerity of The Gaslight Anthem that has earned them an ardent fan base; often Gaslight’s lead guitarist Alex Rosamilla and bassist Alex Levine and touring members Ian Perkins on guitar and Bryan Haring on keys would have heads bent, focused on their instruments with Garden State-style shoegazing. Fallon’s explosive rendering of romantic upheavals and hurts, as on “Spider Bites” from History Books, might make him more Heathcliff than Romeo, but his songs are made for a sing-along shout. As the Beacon crowd rose and applauded their The Gaslight Anthem’s final song, “The ‘59 Sound,” it was clear that the lyrics had little to do with how the band was going to depart into the night. “Well, I wonder which song they're gonna play when we go,” Fallon cried. “I hope it's something quiet and minor and peaceful and slow.” Far from minor (or quiet), it was a major set for these local heroes, playing the Beacon Theatre for the first time and Holiday Cheer for FUV too.

FUV is thankful for all of the fans, bands and artists who traveled long distances — or crossed bridges and tunnels — to make Holiday Cheer for FUV such a rousing evening of comfort and joy. There was rocking, there was sweet soul rapture, there was cursing, and there were magical moments of transcendence. All in all, it was a rousing toast to the end of 2023.

Weekdays at Noon

Ticket Giveaways from WFUV