Sometime during the 90-minute explosion of brass, acrobatics, and general mayhem, what begins disguised as a concert reveals itself as something much more than musical chaos.
"When you come to a MarchFourth show, we don't want you to feel like you're just sitting in your chair watching a performance," explains Phill Stasz, who is a stilt walker and dance team co-captain for the circus-cum-band (or vice versa). "We want you to feel like you're part of a big, raucous, crazy, ass-shaking party full of glitter with stilt walkers and horns in your face." He adds, "When it's all over you might not even know what was going on, but you'll know you had a good time."
What started in 2003 as a one-off performance for a Fat Tuesday party in Portland has grown into a successful national touring act, averaging nearly 200 shows a year. The current lineup boasts 17 performers on stage at any given time, playing a genre-hopping catalog of groove-heavy songs rooted in jazz, rock, and funk. Though instrumented and dressed like a marching band, don't expect the same tunes from MarchFourth as you would hear during halftime at a football game. Although they may have the same instruments, and some hail from that background, MarchFourth pulls from Balkan music, salsa, electro-swing—anything they think will get the crowd dancing. To make sure the whole thing is a total sensory overload experience, a team of acrobats, dancers, and stilt walkers join in as well.
"We try to create a big, over-the-top, in-your-face experience," says Stasz. "Subtlety isn't really our strong suit. We're a lot about overstatement. If you can sit there and calmly talk about what happened step-by-step at the MarchFourth show, we probably didn't do our job. We want to keep your face rocking the whole time."
Cramming 13 musicians and four dancers on stage at once, the group's energy routinely bubbles over and flows into the crowd. MarchFourth members have a habit of dancing their way through the audience, and it's common for spectators to join on stage. Just ask the 70-year-old ski patroller who ended up dancing on stage with the band during their stop in Beaver Creek, Colorado, this January.
"We want to bring everyone into the party together because collective energy is a big thing for us. We like breaking that fourth wall," continues Stasz. "Then at the end of the show we smash it. We just go balls to the wall and all 17 of us head to the floor. Seventeen performers on a floor—even on a floor full of five or six hundred people—is hard not to notice. It brings the room together."
A month away from their 12th anniversary show, few members from the original lineup remain and countless faces have come and gone.
"The current members are just the torch bearers," Stasz concludes. "There are hundreds of people who worked for 10 or 11 years so that people like me can have an opportunity to be joyful and creative in the way that we are. I hope that I set the stage for other people to do the same thing when I'm gone."
MarchFourth Marching Band
8:30 pm. Friday, Feb. 13
Les Schwab Amphitheater, 344 SW Shevlin-Hixon Dr.
$6 adv. online, $10 at the gate.