“It was like playing a party on Mars that couldn’t get any better.”
That was how drummer Tayo Branston described playing this year’s Burning Man, a first for him and his bandmates in Vancouver’s rambunctious collective Five Alarm Funk. “The Playa Provides” is a recurring idiom out there in Black Rock City and that couldn’t have been anymore true than when the eight-piece took the stage Wednesday night at the festival, providing a blistering set of unhinged, demented, raging party music that blew across the desert like an atomic wave.
Branston and his percussive brethren Thomas Trowers on congas and Carl Julig on Timbales were the band’s spark, trading vocal duties (more like growling and hollerin’ duties) and throwing their bodies at their instruments like radioactive Keith Moons. Guitarists Gabe Boothroyd and Oliver Gibson and bassist Jason Smith scorched their frets with infectious hooks and couldn’t help but keep the energy up as they bounded around the stage like a bunch of Mad Hatters. The horn section of Eli Bennett on saxophone and Kent Wallace on trumpet were the glue that held it all together and they blasted the crowd with powerful, funky goodness.
[pullquote]You gotta be seriously fun, take yourself lightly and be very serious about music to play in this band.”[/pullquote]It all felt primal and good and necessary for the hundreds of people who were unleashing their minds, bodies and souls under the full moon. Throw in some costume changes, inflatable dolphins and an anything goes ethos and it was a pinnacle experience for both band and Burners alike.
“It was the first time any of us in the band had been, so we knew we were getting into something crazy, but also something special. It’s not a festival where everything is planned out for people, so it was really exciting to see people just coming around. When we had the art cars roll up, I think we had two or three come up and start blowing 50 foot flames into the air. It was totally surreal. We rode around with a bunch of art cars and saw the installations afterwards. It was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to and that was one of my favorite performances of the summer,” Branston said.
Burning Man was one of the many highs Five Alarm Funk experienced last yearyear. It’s been the hottest year on record for the band, which has been charging through this year’s tours at an unprecedented pace, “three times as much than in years past,” since the March release of its sixth studio album “Sweat.” The core of the band has been around for around a decade and Branston was super pumped that everything that he and his musical brothers have been working toward fell into place this year.
“It was the culmination of getting a really good back-end team of managers and agents. They believe in the band and are pushing for us and opening up new avenues. Also, the band is learning from old mistakes and successes from the past. For us, we’re building on the successes, and “Sweat” is far superior to any other record we’ve done. It was so great for us, the record has reached a lot of good people. We’re really enjoying the music that we’re playing on stage. So the concerts are exciting, the recording is exciting, and the back end is excited about promoting it and all of those things came together to make this year big,” Branston said.
If there is any justice in this world, next year will be bigger than this and the year after will be even bigger for Five Alarm Funk. They’ve been Canada’s favorite kept secret for close to a decade, but those whispers are becoming shouts from a mountaintop with a bullhorn after every show. When you experience the band in its natural habitat — a packed stage with a jumping, sweating crowd — you’re going to walk away a convert, no doubt about it.
But what more could you expect from an eight-piece band that is hungrier than ever, has three percussion players and has a Timbales player who humps inflatable dolphins in front of hundreds of crazies in a bedazzled skirt under a full moon in the desert?
“You gotta be seriously fun, take yourself lightly and be very serious about music to play in this band,” Branston said.
That’s because the band is serving up the most rambunctious and feistiest dance show out there since Parliament/Funkadelic started blurring the lines of psychedelic rock, funk and Afrobeat. Five Alarm Funk is going to wash you face in the funk, bring nothing but the funk and make it rain sweat from the heavens, all with a devilishly satisfied grin on its face.
ABOUT Garrett Bethmann
Garrett Bethmann is a graduate of University of Mary Washington with a degree in English. An eight-year resident of Lake Tahoe, he now lives in Denver, Colorado.