Extra Action Marching Band puts the chaos and cool in your halftime music collective
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Considering its bodacious flag team and its players' general inclination to treat every day like birthday-suit day, Extra Action Marching Band has boasted its share of fleshy, fantastic, and extra-weird gigs, though none quite so intimate as the time they were hired by a would-be groom to crash his marriage proposal. Let into their client's abode by a friend, about 20 members of the drum corps, horn section, and flag team stomped into the couple's bedroom just after the "act." "His girlfriend was naked, jumping up and down on the bed, going, 'Yaaarrr!'" modified-bullhorn manipulator Mateo remembers. "She was totally psyched."
Sit down with whichever members of the 30-odd, proudly odd members of the Bay Area troupe you can rustle up, and you'll get an earful of many similar stories. There was the time they transformed a school bus into a 60-foot-long, 50-foot-tall Spanish galleon, a.k.a. La Contessa, to drive around Burning Man. "But they started to get really strict and created a five-mile-an-hour speed limit," trombone player Chad Castillo explains after a recent practice in seven-year vet Mateo's cavernous Oakland warehouse space, the Meltdown. "We were always going faster because we always had been going faster and never had problems. So they finally banned us from Burning Man."
As with most tales, the exact events are in question, and Castillo and Mateo argue good-naturedly about whether their school-bus-run-amok was actually, er, expelled, before the trombonist continues: "The point is, they banned us, and we brought it back, and we took it on a maiden voyage and crashed it," putting a four-foot-high hole in La Contessa's side.
Hunter Thompson's wake and East Bay Rats soirees aside, performance highlights include opening for David Byrne on his 2005 SoCal tour, stopping at the Hollywood Bowl and later careening through a pelvic thrust–heavy version of Beyoncé's "Crazy in Love." And then there was a Mardi Gras tour that re-created Black Sabbath's heavy metal debut classic, with plain ole heavy eXtreme Elvis on vocals, and special, sexy rifle and fan-dance routines, flag team dancer and original member Kelek Stevenson relates.
The band upped themselves two years ago, when they played the Balkan Brass Bands Festival in Guca, Serbia, deep in the heart of gypsy horn country, one of the inspirations for Extra Action's cosmopolitan mosh pit of Sousa, Latin, and New Orleans second-line sounds. A recent DVD by Emmy-winning nature documentarian and Extra Action flag girl Anna Fitch supports the stories and catches the combo in action as villagers cheer, fall to their knees, and hug the ensemble as they blow through the streets. One grandmotherly onlooker even gets some extra, extra action, copping a feel of a manly member's bare chest.
But with the anarchic joys come the passionate battles, such as the recent knockdown blowout over the possibility of doing a Coke commercial, one of many battles regularly undergone in the collective, which has only one CD to its name, last year's self-released Live on Stubnitz. "There was this huge firestorm between those who wanted to take the gig and use the money to further social change in the world and show that we don't support Coke and its policies," Mateo explains.
"And a bunch of people threatened to quit the band," Castillo adds. "This band is so big — you've got homeowners and you've got people who are basically living in their campers — and when it came to doing the Coke commercial, there were a lot of people who just don't like the big multinational corporations."
It's remarkable that such an unruly, perpetually shifting, shiftless bunch has managed to hold it together for all of seven or eight years with few agreed-upon "leaders" (although Castillo asserts, "the original members always walk around like aristocracy"). The wireless, untethered energy they bring to the trad rock lineup is impressive. When they marched onto the stage at Shoreline Amphitheatre to join Arcade Fire (after crashing the women's room) at last year's Download Festival — ragtag horn and drum corps ripping through a few numbers as the flag girls and boy bumped and grinded in blond wigs and glittery G-strings — you realized what was really missing from indie at this performance, at so many performances: sex appeal. Theater. A drunken mastery of performance and the dark arts of showmanship, along with the sense of team spirit linked to so much marching band imagery bandied about in today's pop.
As Castillo quips, "Record companies are interested in having us play with their bands because their bands are so boring onstage. People pay big money to go to these concerts because the music is all great and produced, and then they go to these shows, and these guys are sitting there bent over their Game Boys. Oh, that's really exciting. Where's the show?"
This show emerged from the ashes of Crash Worship, the legendary SoCal "cult, paganistic drum corps," as Castillo describes it, "where people would just strip naked and writhe in orgiastic piles." Extra Action was the processional that would cut through the heaps, eventually marching north to a Fruitvale warehouse, at the behest of ex-Crash Worshipper Simon Cheffins.
"I've been pretty much kicked out of every band I've been in," Castillo says, who has played with the group for five years. Members — many of the sculptor, performance artist, or "computer geek" persuasion — come and go, sometimes after a few practices, spinning off into combos like the As Is Brass Band. But it's a family of sorts — a band-geek gang cognizant of the Bay Area's countercultural/subcultural performance traditions and the unchartable wildness extending from the Diggers to the Cacophony Society. And only "one thing seems to be a requirement," Castrillo continues. "People have to have some problem that needs to be expressed. Everybody's an exhibitionist. We like to take off our clothes." Those are family values we can get behind. SFBG
Extra Action Marching Band
With Death of a Party, Sugar and Gold, and Hank IV
May 18, 8 p.m. door
398 12th St., SF
Call for price.