Propelled by an eccentricity that is uniquely Portland, MarchFourth has always been fueled by the magic of New Orleans. The city "has been in our DNA since the band's inception," yet "in a spiritual sense more than musical sense," explains founding member and band leader John Averill.
With more than a dozen members—musical or otherwise—on stage at any given point, an "M4" show is a literal circus—part carnival performance and burlesque show mashed with an untamed marching band where stilt walkers, acrobats and dancers accompany the brassy horn section, driving percussionists, rocking guitars and chant-along choruses. While the act was formed on March 4, 2003, for a Fat Tuesday party, its repertoire combines funky Afrobeat, Eastern European gypsy punk and Brazilian samba to its classic brass band pep.
From these origins, the band has "taken the New Orleans 'party in the street' vibe and elevated it to the big stage," Averill says—which is why 15 M4 members traveled straight to the source in an attempt to bottle NOLA's energy on their fourth studio album, "Magic Number," independently released on Sep. 30.
"The decision was either to fly the producer and engineer to Portland, or take the band to New Orleans," Averill says. M4 loaded up its 20-person bus (which can pack 12 musicians, three performers and five crew in a custom converted space that sleeps 22 and has a kitchen and bathroom, enabling the band to "pretty much live and sleep on our bus when we're on the road," Averill describes), drove to Louisiana, "and set up shop in New Orleans for 10 days," he says.
That producer and engineer were, respectively, Ben Ellman (of Galactic) and Mikael "Count" Eldridge (known for his work with DJ Shadow, Tycho, Trombone Shorty and Galactic), and from day one, "it just felt like home," Averill says. For starters, M4 alto saxophonist Michelle Christiansen used to live two houses down from the studio so, "We parked the bus in the studio lot and rented her house, which allowed us to spread out a little and yet still all be on site," Averill explains. "Each night after recording, we'd either walk down to the bars on Magazine, or drive over to Frenchman and absorb the amazing local live music that happens every night of the week." And although the songs were already arranged, being in New Orleans enabled the band to "channel the juju of the place, which perhaps led to us performing well in the studio."
The 10 studio days also saw magical moments when special guests stopped through, like drummer Stanton Moore of Galactic, sousaphone player Matt Perrine of Bonerama, or Ellman himself providing a shredding harmonica solo on "Inventing The Wheel," a track which also features a solo from Trombone Shorty.
In typical M4 form, "Magic Number" may be full of myriad styles but is the group's most evolved, cohesive record yet. From its NOLA second line, marching band roots, MarchFourth has grown into a modern-day funky big band, and heading down south "was the best decision we could have made because the band was really focused," Averill reflects. Hear that focus shine on the new record and explode forth on the stage.
Parallel 44 Presents' 10th Anniversary Ball: MarchFourth and Watkins Glen
RESCHEDULED TO JANUARY 19
CANCELLED—Wednesday, Dec. 14, 8pm doors, 9pm show
The Domino Room,
51 NW Greenwood Ave., Bend
$20 adv., $25 door
Tickets at bendticket.com