Natalie MacMaster – Birchmere (Alexandria, VA)
The band arrived onstage with no sleep, coming directly from British Columbia via Halifax. That didnt stop Natalie MacMaster and her mates from shooting two sets worth of musical shamrocks over the heads of 400 time-clapping fans at the venerable Birchmere on a pleasant summer Thursday.
I can feel the fire in the air tonight, MacMaster said after the first number, Welcome To Trossachs, which set the template for much of what was to come. Backed by Mac Morin on electric piano, Brad Davidge on guitar, Matt MacIsaac on bagpipes, Miche Pouliot on drums, and Shane Hendrickson on five-string bass, MacMaster began the song with a fiddle figure, intensifying like a thunderstorm as the other instruments began chasing the melody one by one. The tension was relieved after a full stop, long enough for MacMaster to give a wicked grin and then, wham! The sound burst into a full-band explosion.
Although the Birchmere is a dinner theater/listening club with no dance floor, MacMaster urged the listeners to become dancers if they were so inclined. The mostly middle-aged, middle-class audience members remained in their seats, happy to take in the spectacle of the powerful musicianship on display.
The fiery jigs were given breathing room in the first set by an interlude of traditional Gaelic aires for piano and fiddle, a bit of Irish tap dancing, and the ancient, sweetly sentimental Scottish piece Blue Bonnets. The second set included a duet between MacMaster and Hendrickson on Davidges Stuck In The Middle.
But it was the thunderous Cape Breton rockers that earned a standing ovation. The melodies were tradition-bound, yet as inventive as they were brisk. The sound never got old as the versatile players continuously added new sounds to the mix a Fender Telecaster, a banjo, and a variety of pipes, including an intriguing electric bagpipe (with a wire instead of a wind bag). In the middle of it all was MacMaster, engaging the audience with goofy charm and virtuoso fiddling.