We’ve seen March Fourth Marching band many times over the years at Artsquest, from free shows at Musikfest to gigs inside of the Musikfest Cafe. The raucous crew was back for yet another performance last week and proved that their act might be getting a little worn.
As the show started out, a guitarist/saxophonist said his other bandmates, “This is the first time I’ve started out on guitar.” That should’ve been a clue for things to come. Although they band came out in force, as usual, with twelve members on stage, the first few songs lacked the sort of punch that invigorated crowds at previous shows. One of the more exciting parts in the first half of the show came with a new, impressive gymnastic dance routine that we hadn’t previously seen, but any momentum it brought dissolved when the band broke into its slow-moving song “Gospel” not long after.
One of the best songs of the night was “Fuzzy Lentil,” a heavier song with a trombone solo that added was equal parts alt rock and ska that delivered a much-needed jolt to the show. Another bright moment came with their song “Oak Street Ska,” an upbeat ska punk tune that had one (yes, only one) person in the crowd skanking. Following that up was another highlight of the night in the form of a surprise cover of Nirvana’s “In Bloom.” Judging by the crowd it didn’t seem a lot of people knew what the song was, but those who did were appreciative of the quirk and ballsiness of a marching band covering Kurt Cobain.
Despite those mid-set high points, the show didn’t flow. Although the musicianship was on-point, especially during ethnic-influenced songs like the Indian-inspired”Delhi Belly” and the Slavic “Simplon Cocek,” the band didn’t seem to be invested in the show. Previous shows, and hell, even videos, of the band were much more entertaining than they were this night. One of the most notable changes to the performance was the stilt-walkers, who are one of the main gimmicks and attractions to the band. While they were there, they were utilized sparingly with only one major dance sequence. Perhaps there was an accident or an issue with them that evening that precluded them from performing all of the stunts they usually do, but it left a big hole in the show both visually and rhythmically. Without the spectacle to break up the show more than once, the set suffered as a result.
While it wasn’t a bad show by any means, it simply was not March Fourth Marching Band at their best. Hopefully if/when they return the show will be just as magical as it has been in the past. And please, keep throwing in those crazy random cover songs.