Rant ‘N’ Roll: This Ain’t Your Daddy’s Marching Band!

They’re called M4 (for MarchFourth Marching Band) and it’s the closest to Mardi Gras you may ever get without going to New Orleans. Lighting up the festival circuit since their 2003 inception, they’re a nonstop action-ball, a Whirling Dervish, a Saint Vitus Dance and a carnival sideshow all rolled into one. Rock ‘n’ roll tunesmiths Leiber & Stoller wrote a song in 1961 called “Little Egypt” about a belly dancer who came out “wearing nothin’ but a button and a bow.” The two pulchritudinous female dancers shakin’ their moneymakers on the stage of the Musikfest Café in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, weren’t wearing much more and they shimmied and shook and crawled on their belly like a reptile. Two guys on stilts were on either side of the stage and they crawled up the legs of those giants upside down, spreading their legs and wrapping them around the faces of the eight-foot tall acrobatic twin towers. The effect was visually stunning.

Have I mentioned the music yet? Six horns, five pieces of percolatin’ percussion and a funky electric bass pounded out a primal world-beat fit to dance to with Brazilian, African and Big Bayou influences as if they rose from the swamps of Louisiana. Yet they’re from Portland, Oregon. Go figure. Oh, I forgot their Eastern European gypsy swing. And their colorful uniforms. That pounding beat had me at my usual spot just to the right of the soundboard dancing my fool head off for the duration of their 90-minute set.

Totally DIY, this music was all-original, as was the presentation: their own choreography, they even sew their own uniforms. Or so I’m told. I’m also told they constantly tour with a rotating cast of 30 performers. And they have an album out, Magnificent Beast, their third, produced by Steve Berlin of Los Lobos. The live effect, though, is not unlike Cirque Du Soleil. Multi-media to the max. The dancers/stilt-walkers have been known to crowd surf and, on this night, they did a French Quarter-style second line right through the crowd with a trombone-man, a sax-man and a trumpet-man blowing hard and loud in and around the surprised faces at each table. Table? Who had time to sit during this all-out Bacchanalia?

It all amounts to a kaleidoscopic panoply for the senses, a celebratory feast of friends. Do I have to say they blew me away? You could call it a vaudeville circus, a sexy carnivalesque sideshow of animalistic proportions where all sense of decorum is battered, beaten and trampled into submission. It’s an orgy. That’s what it is! An orgy! And it’s in Technicolor. 3-D. I will not soon forget the image of scantily clad beauties crawling up the legs of the stilt-men and hanging upside down, legs spread, breasts straining at the sheer diaphanous fabric. To dance your ass off to the wild Rhumba, Salsa, Samba, Sousa, Cajun and deep-fried Southern soul is one thing. To simultaneously dance, drink and stare unabashedly at the kind of visually stunning performance that sears itself into your brain is quite another.

Upcoming at this amazing room with the adventurous booking policy only an hour from North Jersey is Marty Stuart and Roger McGuinn Nov. 8; The Large Flowerheads Nov. 23; Enter The Haggis Nov. 27; acoustic Hot Tuna Dec. 3; Scythian Dec. 13; Swearingen & Kelli Dec. 15; The Rob Stoneback Big Band Dec. 19; Sarah Ayers & Friends Dec. 20; Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes Dec. 21; Leon Russell Jan. 3; The Craig Thatcher Band Jan. 4; The Boogie Wonder Band Jan. 17; The Aardvarks Jan. 18; Fabulous Greaseband Jan. 24; Strawberry Fields Feb. 6; Blood Sweat & Tears March 5 and Jon Anderson April 3.