As its name and wraparound sunglasses might suggest, the Spasmodic Bluegrass Convulsion is bluegrass kin to the Blues Brothers. What's even stranger is that the group, which performs with the Seldom Scene at the Birchmere Thursday, hails from that well-known bluegrass capital . . . Toulouse, France.
"They're crazy," says Ben Eldridge, the Scene's banjo wiz. The Convulsion, whose show includes a fair amount of bluegrass vaudeville and visual comedy, hosted the Scene and several other American bluegrass bands in May at the first "Festival International de Bluegrass de Toulouse."
"It's the first time anybody ever parted with enough bucks to get us overseas," says mandolinist John Duffey. "It was the biggest festival there in some time, put on by the city's Cultural Arts Society. Pretty good audience, too. Our only problem was communicating.
"I figured it out real quick: 'Hey, boys, let's just go back to playing and singing because they don't know what you're saying.' Phil Rosenthal, lead guitarist and vocalist knows a little French and he was able to work up an introduction, which went over quite well."
The Spases are Phillipe Bucherer ("contrebasse et tenor vocal"), Joel Herback ("guitare et lead vocal"), Pierre Jeanblanc ("banjo et baritone vocal") and Patrick Ceccon ("mandoline et basse vocal"). They are obviously bluegrass fanatics, putting out a monthly magazine called Back Up--Consacre' au Bluegrass.
"Playing-wise, they seemed to be pretty decent," says Duffey. "They sing all their songs in English. I asked them why; they said because it sounds silly in French." How about "comme un renard en ha te," or as we know it, "like a fox on the run"?