[BRASS 'N' BALLS] Some great live bands just can't seem to capture their in-person energy on disc. "You have to see 'em live," we tell friends, apologetically, when the CD doesn't bring it. I was afraid that would happen with MarchFourth, whose joyous performances owe so much to the visual—and visceral—impact of so many big-horn toters and percussionists having so much fun, marching into the audience and throwing down. That ambience is notoriously hard to capture on a recording, as even masters like the Dirty Dozen Brass Band have discovered.
Of course, no CD could quite encode all of March's costumed energy—much less its flag-twirlers, stilt-walkers, unicycles, fire eaters, puppets and other accomplices—in little digital bytes.
But Rise Up comes a lot closer than any of us had any right to expect. Sounding tighter than ever, the two- or three-dozen member collective has miraculously managed to channel its raucous sweat, swing and swagger for home and headphone. Newbies can enjoy this party-ready record for its own sake instead of just as a pale souvenir of a full color concert.
The disk presents almost the full range of M4's diverse sounds—Mexican brass band ("Contada Ridiculata"), odd-meter Balkan party gypsies ("Simplon Cocek"), throwback Latin big-band jazz ("Dynomite"), classic funk ("Freestyle for Miles," which owes as much to James Brown as to its namesake), New Orleans second line ("Ninth Ward Calling"), gospel rave up ("Gospel") and unclassifiable hybrids. If Herb Alpert were still running the Tijuana Brass, "Happiness" would be the perfect cover.
Some proceeds from Rise Up go to Sweet Home New Orleans, a nonprofit organization that helps the damaged Crescent City's music and cultural institutions recover from Katrina's helluva Bush-whacking job. Fresh as Rise Up sounds, there's no substitute for the full MarchFourth live experience—lucky for us, the band plays this week. BRETT CAMPBELL.
[SHORT STORY] Brevity can go a long way in rock music. Of the 19 tracks on local spiky-punk quartet Curious Hands' second full-length, Bangin' Like a Fox, only one is longer than three minutes. Actually, hell, the whole thing breezes by in just over half an hour. I have three songs in my iTunes library longer than that.
The fun in listening to Bangin' comes from its short run time. Instead of tacking on needless bridges or an extra chorus, Curious Hands' two songwriters—guitarist Jack Tuftee and bassist Tyler Riggs—distill a serious dose of punk rock sneer into sharp pop nuggets that, if anything, almost resemble a garage-rock haiku. It's tempting (and easy) to compare the band's songs to Guided by Voices mid-'90s material, where Bob Pollard seemed terrified of letting anything get past the first verse. Those confines led to some incredible pop moments, though; 14 years on, and "Game of Pricks" is still the most perfect 93 seconds ever put to a crappy-sounding four-track.
In my mind, a more accurate comparison is to prolific Vermont project the Capstan Shafts, if leader Dean Wells were into video games instead of lengthy song titles. "Tuck Away Boys" and "Bleeding Heart" both bop along on jangly arrangements and choogly guitar playing, and "I Told You So," with its stop-and-start beat and infectious hook, would fit well on any mixtape. Though it's filled with a bit of clutter and silly moments (do they really need to sing about starfish?), Bangin' proves that sometimes it kills to keep it simple. MICHAEL MANNHEIMER.
SEE IT: MarchFourth plays Wonder Ballroom on Thursday, Nov. 19. 6:30 pm. $13 advance, $15 day of show. All ages. Curious Hands play Langano Lounge on Saturday, Nov. 21. 9 pm. Free. 21+.