New Grass Country Club: 02.26.2011

The first thing I did when I got to Breezy’s on Saturday night was wonder – audibly, as it turned out – “What.. the hell.. is this?”

Jack Donovan, the lead singer of New Grass Country Club, was on door duty at the time and began to rattle off the details of the evening’s show.  I interrupted him after a few seconds, as I already knew what was on the schedule: The side-project to a side-project Chris Shark America was playing an ambient set before New Grass – still using borrowed instruments after a tour theft incident – was headlining a post-Mardi Gras parade house party.  What caught me off guard was the venue itself.

Billed as a haunted/old residence located in an area with which I am almost wholly unfamiliar, my trek around Uptown New Orleans in search of “Breezy’s” was characterized by plenty of concerns about my personal safety yet also by a dearth of expectations.  I’ve been to “house shows” before; where the band sets up in a backyard or basement, the sound is below average, and it is usually only a matter of time before the NOPD shows up to send the thin, mostly dissatisfied crowd on their way.

But what I walked into on this particular evening was nothing short of an over-the-top funhouse of a rock club, a space that had alternated between commercial and residential over the past decade and was now – with a deep, graduated main area, benches spread in front of the remnants of a built-in bar, and a recessed stage  – a perfectly bizarre hidden gem.  Every square inch of the walls of this former coffee house/performance art space were covered with stuff, including but not limited to concert fliers, Christmas lights, posters, paintings, dried flowers, and old bikes.  When combined with the wall to wall carpeting, all this extra adornment contributed the whacked-out room’s warm aural landscape.

New Grass Country Club used the unusual and intimate space to their advantage by unleashing nothing short of a take-no-prisoners ramble, proving the hardship they’ve gone through over the last few weeks has been remarkably unsuccessful in slowing down their momentum.  The procession of raggedly soulful vocals, acrobatic bass lines, and intricate guitar work spanned – and defied – nearly the entire of history of defiant rock n’ roll that makes up the New Grass backbone.  Even a slower, more stripped down number like the etheral “Kingdom” enveloped the crowd with Donovan’s sweeping howl. By the time the band had finished upending the room with Television-esque dueling guitar solos on “High Tide on Capital Hill” and “Coma”, the first concert ever played at Breezy’s appeared to be an unmitigated success: the keg was floated, minds were blown, and no noise ordinances were (grossly) violated.

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