See, what happened was… 16 aliens descended upon the State Theatre in St. Petersburg Friday night (Sept. 25). They claimed to be humans and referred to themselves as March Fourth! Said they were from Portland, Oregon. But we know better. This performance was distinctly otherworldly.
Clearly, these aliens have been monitoring Earth TV and radio transmissions, and they obviously absorbed a lot of Sun Ra, marching bands, Duke Ellington, ska music, P-Funk, full-frontal metal, King Sonny Adé, second-line dancing, Cirque du Soleil acrobatics, Art Ensemble of Chicago, and hard bop jazz. For certain, that’s the band I saw play last night.
The invasion started early. When this “show” was announced, there were two bands on the undercard. UNRB is a local band that, somehow, I had studiously avoided seeing (mistake). And the first band was Sepiatonic. Didn’t do my homework to find out ahead of time who they were.
Turns out Sepiatonic was the aliens’ expedition party, the four members appearing in a constantly changing arrangement. They were so spectacular that, if I’d had to leave after they played, I’d have received more than my money’s worth. WOW. They also “claim” to be from Portland.
They started out with baritone sax (Jon Vancura), trombone (Anthony Meade), and trumpet (Karolina Lux — these are all names made up by the aliens anyhow), and Ethan Zirin-Brown on beats, bass and the computer for percussion and more. Then Lux began singing — with a wonderful voice — for some deep funk, as two of the boys stripped down to silver short-shorts. She was singing about spirit animals and who-knows-what they streamed from outer space.
Then DJ Pants, announced as a Tampa “celebrity,” came out, with no arms (OK, inside his costume, but still). He proceeded to dance and program the DJ computer with his foot. Lux returned to the stage and sang a song, eventually stripping to panties and pasties. By now the place was going berserk. Then the three gentlemen, with funky DJ drum accompaniment, produced a stunning version of “John the Revelator.”
Not only were there aliens on stage, but there were aliens at the soundboard as well. My complaints about sound at the State have been well documented, although recently it has been better (thinking about Lettuce/Monophonics and The Motet/Serotonic), but last night the sound was pristine. Superb. Spectacular. Otherworldly. See? Aliens!
Bravo to the sound engineers!
Next up were actual humans from St. Petersburg, UNRB. In retrospect, this was absolutely the best band to fit in between the aliens. Their brand of ska-fusion was magnificent. This isn’t always my favorite musical style, but the septet was so completely engaging, joyous and excellent. It never hurts to have a four-horn front, with trumpet (Ben Datin), trombone (Andy Pilcher), tenor sax (Dan Smith) and bari (Matt Weihmuller).
If you were looking for the surprise element, it would have to be lead singer Noel Rochford, who straps on an electric ukulele instead of a guitar and makes it work! Best dancer/jumper award goes to bassist Nic Giordano, joined by rhythm section bandmate Eric Allaire on drums. They flat-out crushed this set.
“Collateral Jammage” was superb, and then Rockford brought out his mom(!) to sing. It was awesome. They absolutely nailed the ska, but they had so many other directions. The band got very funky at times, and they threw down a nasty “House on 9th Street” (starting with the “House of the Rising Sun” vamp) talking about a place in Tarpon Springs. I know I won’t “studiously avoid” them anymore!
Also a great shout-out to both the bands and the stage crew. Neither break between sets lasted more than 15 minutes. Now that’s respect right there.
It was time for the full alien invasion. For March Fourth!, every day is Hallowe’en, as members are adorned in all manner of costume, with a few actual marching band outfits thrown in for good measure. My notes became useless at this point. There is simply so much happening on stage it’s difficult to keep up. The only guy plugged in was bassist John Averill, and even he wasn’t tethered very tightly.
There was constant movement and repositioning. In the back, there were seven horns (six when Vancura put down the bari and picked up electric guitar) and six percussionists, I think. They wouldn’t stay still long enough to be sure. The sound of the horns in particular was clearly an homage to the great big bands of Andy Kirk, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington and more, with plenty of New Orleans influences and that second-line feel. Ditto for the drums.
We got ska, big band, funk, Afrobeat, rock, marching music and tons of great solos in addition to the remarkable ensemble work. Horn soloists would walk from the back riser down front to deliver, as Katie Presley did several times with her brilliant trumpet work. So did one of the trombone players aforementioned. And the drumline was constantly pulsing, throbbing, driving.
How about two great female dancers? How about a juggler with glow-balls, five eventually, then four clubs? How about a female acrobat with two chairs and a large box displaying Olympic skills? The only thing missing, understandable, were the stilt-walkers. They may not have made this two-show Florida trip, and it wouldn’t have worked at the State in any event.
The hour-and-a-half plus set closed with a brilliant version of “Dynomite” (at least I knew the name of one song!). It was stunning. And I have this notion about encores, because many bands, humans or aliens, usually drop the best tune at the end. And it is often the case that the encore simply cannot achieve that level, but everybody loves encores. March Fourth! delivered a powerful five-minute punkish blast to bid a proper farewell to the rocking crowd at the State.
To paraphrase from the Grateful Dead:
THERE IS NOTHING ON EARTH LIKE A MARCH FOURTH! CONCERT.
Kudos to WMNF for contacting these aliens and having them return to the bay area from “Portland, Oregon” (I mean, come ON), to the outstanding sound engineers (oh, right, they’re aliens), to UNRB for a delightful romp, and to the aliens of Sepiatonic and March Fourth! for giving us a glimpse at intergalactic joy. This was a very close encounter of the third kind!
Naturally, the adventure didn’t end there. Two late-night options were available. Donna, Tyne, Danielle, Dan and I opted to head to The Amsterdam to see The Bath Salt Zombies. Which would have been perfect, you know, zombies after aliens. Alas, they had already performed, and another band was on.
Donna and I went to the Ringside Café to see the Juanjamon Band. I believe this is the premier funk band in the state. Juanjamon (a member of CopE, on hiatus) is a quadruple-threat (sax, keys, bass and vocals), and he was blowing a great tenor solo when we arrived. From there, they played the intro to “(She’s Got a Real Nice) Booty.” Excited, I said the name to Donna. Turns out, you should qualify statements like that so your companion doesn’t think you are talking about another woman!
After I got out of that tight spot, we enjoyed the best, longest, jazziest version of “Booty” I have ever seen them play. In fact, the brief portion of the set we caught was just superb. Dre Mack was laying down amazing guitar lines, and Matt Giancola just tore it up on his bank of keyboards and synthesizers, a beautiful jazzy solo. Michael Garrie is such a fine drummer, and everything was on the one. Trevor McDannel was blowing up the bass, and then Juanjamon strapped on his bass, and the two of them took it through the roof. (Giancola and McDannel lead the band Future Vintage.)
“Booty” then segued into “Hey Chester,” which Juanjamon slowed almost to a waltz before returning to exit velocity. We slid out for the long ride home as Garrie was giving the kit a workout. And there must have been an alien working sound, because the sound was, again, pristine. Andy Lyle-level great. It makes such a difference when you can enjoy the music without wincing and without having to shout to communicate.
Photographs courtesy of Anna Giancola, Lindalu Reisinger and WMNF.