Sunday, 24 March 2013

Notre Dame de Grass at Divan Orange

Notre Dame de Grass at Divan Orange


I was beer in hand, in a festival near Saint John, New Brunswick once, when someone glanced at the act on stage from a distance and said, “You know what, man? Bluegrass is like the punk rock of country music.” Despite that statement being very funny, I had to admit the analogy was not inaccurate. Indeed, bluegrass is country music's frenetic and out of control teenager, much like punk is the troublesome kid in rock and roll’s household. It must partly be why I enjoy it so much.

Probably fuelled by the same immature instincts that tend to nudge me in bluegrass’s direction, I arrived very late at local act Notre Dame de Grass’s performance at Divan Orange on March 7th. I had a friend from France over at my house, and the reminiscing got the best of us, so we showed up just in time to catch Andrew Collins’ Trio last song. I recognized Lil’ Andy’s big cowboy hat in the crowd, but it was clear he had left the stage a while back. Oops.

But hey, I wasn’t going to drown in my own remorse, and I opted to make the best out of my shorter-than-expected night. It turned out to be a very wise decision.

I’m guessing the round tables that the Divan Orange staff set up in front of the stage suited the previous acts, but it was funnily inappropriate for NDG’s vibe. This fun-times team plays party-oriented songs, with the odd ballad here and there, not the type of stuff that calls for quiet contemplation. Bluegrass is made for dancing, and I was happy to pay tribute to that joyful mission by cheerfully pacing around behind the folks who were sitting. Some of them looked annoyed, but I weigh my words when I say: the hell with them. Not dancing to bluegrass is the crime, not the other way around.

As is the case for most bluegrass, this band’s music relies solely on strings and vocals: one guitar, one upright bass, one fiddle, one banjo, one mandolin and an array of harmonious voices. Lots of fingerpicking, lots of youthful speed, lots of exchanges of cheeky looks among band members. Lots of fun, above all.

I hear NDG jokingly calls itself an All-Star band. The reason? There’s a representative of several different geographical areas in its ranks. If I remember right, Andrew Horton (double bass) is from BC, Josh Zubot (fiddle) from Alberta, Joe Grass (mandolin) from New Brunswick, while frontman Matt Large (guitar) grew up in Montreal, and Guy Donis (banjo) in Liège, Belgium (I would not bet that there are legions lining up to play banjo in Brel’s plat pays, let alone individuals who play it as well as this man). However, no matter how tongue-in-cheek their claim to be a bunch of All-Stars might be, Notre Dame de Grass’s skills give a touch of believability to it. Its members are not merely specimens out of certain corners of the country (and the world), they also happen to be astonishing musicians. Their cohesion is stunning, the solos of every single member are eloquent demonstrations of just how comfortable they are with their respective instrument, and the fun they visibly have delivering their art to their public is truly a breath of fresh air.

At one point, Large even took the stage in solo and sang one piece a cappella, with his soulful, smooth, country-flavoured tone. I swear you could hear people breathe in Divan Orange. He just took hold of the atmosphere effortlessly, and proceeded to calmly stir everyone’s soul. Beautiful.

If you like bluegrass and are a Montreal-dwelling music lover, you probably already know about Notre Dame de Grass’s greatness. If, however, you’re not familiar with the style, it would not be a bad idea to start your exploration with this crew. It could very well be your gateway to a type of country music you might enjoy more than you think. You know, the genre’s punk rock.

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