The Urban Dictionary defines March Fourth as “On March 4th, people make a special effort to improve their lives, improve themselves and ‘March Forth’ toward their dreams and highest aspirations.” Thursday night at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe’s South Shore Room, Portland, Oregon’s quirky, talented, and rocking version of a marching band gone mad undoubtedly helped everyone in attendance improve their lives.
MarchFourth actually has been around since 2003. But after catching my first glimpses of their shows during Hangtown Music Festival week in October, I made it a point to see the headlining version as they kicked off a brief four-leg run in South Lake Tahoe. Music acts hate to be pigeonholed and this band leaves you no choice but to throw up your hands and declare that they’re a little bit of a lot of things. One thing they are, is entertaining as hell.
The entire production is a constant[pullquote]There is so much going during a MarchFourth show that one could easily attend three or four in a row and not catch everything[/pullquote] whirling dervish of performers, each handling multiple duties. Stage activity is kinetic, as the artists constantly move to different positions onstage to be featured or play supporting roles. Horns rarely drift from dominance of the song selections, providing harmony and punch in addition to solo opportunities. Solo electric guitar work sprinkles in to create some rock and funk edge.
Musically, the ensemble, which changes regularly on different tours, is unerringly solid despite the constant chaos. Timekeeping is anchored at center stage by a “Three’s Company” grouping of congas, snare and high hat driven by a pair of ladies bracketing an ever smiling gentleman pounding a large tom-tom draped over ample shoulders. Adding to the anything-goes atmosphere are stilt walkers, and choreographed acrobatic feats of balance, strength and dexterity. Bass lines emanate fittingly from a black costumed artist whose sleeve was adorned with an armband that read: Captain.
Playing a wide variety of music from The Doors to Destiny’s Child, they maintaining a dance-carnival atmosphere for the over the top marching band-costumed revelers. The tie-dye of the Deadheads was traded in for conductor hats, modern twists on band uniform looks while maintaining the colorful piping and buttons.
Like a great rollicking comedy that delivers new one-liners you missed each time you watch it, there is so much going during a MarchFourth show that one could easily attend three or four in a row and not catch everything. One of the banes of touring life are occasional stale performances. I can’t see that ever being an issue for this group, which can measure as large as 20 players.
The evening closed with an encore right out of Fat Tuesday on Bourbon Street. The band’s frontman announced: “We’re about to find out who smells better, you guys or us” and the entire cacophony climbed down into the crowd from all sides, instruments in tow, and played the finale in amongst, around and above, the dancing, smiling, gyrating mob. The song ended with the performers in the crowd, and most stayed milling around and chatting with fans longer than security and cleaning crews likely would have preferred.
A MarchFourth headline show was the fun, immersive experience I suspected it might be from the first encounter. I look forward to seeing all that I missed on the next go-round.