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Beauty and the Brass

Well, it’s more like beauties, beats, brass and bass when MarchFourth Marching Band (M4) is in town. For those unfamiliar, the Portland-based improv troupe is an experience of ruffled burlesque panties, bass guitar and the sonic blaring of saxophone. It’s as if Charley Grapewin met Sgt. Pepper and a Mardi Gras parade on its way to Black Rock City — or if Gogol Bordello and Les Claypool conceived a project together, then abandoned it in the French Quarter.

M4 is more than just a party. It is a well-devised, meticulously tailored, immersive event where sound melts into a blur of flaming hula hoops and trapeze acts. The group’s uniforms, a montage of leopard print and bejeweled shakos, embroidered vests and jackets, striped pants, frilly corsets and steam-punk goggles, are all individually designed and crafted by the band. 

M4 demands all of the senses at once, propelling its audience into an interactive world of dance, exhilaration and ecstasy. Much like other marching bands and burlesque troupes, M4 presents itself as one-half performance art and one-half musical outfit, the latter fusing New Orleans brass with Eastern European folk, jazz and world music. 

There’s no shortage of muttonchops or Victorian apparel for M4 or its Portland counterparts Vagabond Opera, which gigs Friday, Feb. 17. This leaves only a final logistical question — how to cram stilt performers and fire spinners inside WOW Hall? I’m sure there’s a way. 

MarchFourth Marching Band and Samba Ja play 9 pm Saturday, Feb. 18, at WOW Hall; $12 adv., $15 door. Two day pass (Feb. 17-18) available at WOW Hall for $20.