March Fourth Marching Band, one of the best damn things to hit Musikfest in the past few years (although they sadly missed 2013), returned to a good-sized crowd at the Musikfest Café this past Sunday evening.
It’s no surprise they hail from Portland, a city that has a wacky culture that’s spawned absurdist IFC comedies, many a bearded craft brewer, and a pseudo-hipster culture worthy of a master’s thesis. The band, comprised of a dizzying 20 or so members, does not play concerts. They put on shows. Far from the typical high school covers of Gary Glitter or the now nauseatingly overplayed collegiate covers of “Seven Nation Army,” March Fourth is more of a punky version of a New Orleans second line. Although Sunday’s performance, like most of their shows, was largely instrumental, the parts that did include vocals were impressive and left you wondering why they don’t sing more often.
Even more-so than their huge band and fun demeanor, the group is most known for its stilted theatrics. While their music is loud and proud, the visual distractions are a welcome respite as their songs tend to get slightly tiresome and bleed together over an hour and a half. The evening started out with two men on stilts, kicking high into the air and generally making March Fourth newcomers nervous.
Then, about 5 songs in, came the real fun. One of the female dancers paired with the stilted men to perform a mesmerizing burlesque act, with two of the men ‘fighting’ for the woman as she was flipped around, held high in the air, and climbed up and down the 15-foot men.
Later on came an even cooler performance, one which we hadn’t seen them perform at Musikfest previously. The two men came out on stilts with the women as their marionettes. What followed was a sequence that had the women coming to the self-realization that they weren’t puppets but human, and staged a revolt against their massive, stilted controllers. Backed by emotive music, the staged violence seemed real, especially with the cringe-worthy thuds of the performers falling to their knees from high on their stilts. It was a beautiful act, one that would be worth seeing on its own in a theatre, let alone as an interlude during a fun and lively band show.
The only detractor of the evening was the odd choice of seating the show as a cabaret and standing-room only arrangement. With the dance floor surrounded by tables and chairs, and such a huge band with such lively music, the whole thing seemed a little boxed in. A minor detail, but still noteworthy.
If you haven’t seen March Fourth Marching Band yet, you must. They’re a trippy, loud, and beautiful show that even without the music would be worth seeing. But the music itself stands alone, as evidenced by their recent inclusion on the Monsters University soundtrack. If you happen to catch them in the area again, there’s no act you’re going to see for a measly $20.