Brassy Five Alarm Funk to burn up Garf's 

12-piece band returns with Afro-beats, funk fusion

Smokin Five Alarm Funk heats it up Friday, September 1, photo submitted
  • Smokin Five Alarm Funk heats it up
    Friday, September 1, photo submitted

Who: Five Alarm Funk

When: Friday, Sept. 1, Doors 9 p.m. show at 10 p.m.

Where: Garfinkel’s

Tickets: $10 at the door

In an era where singer/songwriters climb the charts with their self-important solo acts while three-piece acts break up because of creative differences, there’s something truly awesome about seeing a full 12-piece band in all its instrumental glory.

Maybe that’s why Vancouver’s Five Alarm Funk draws a thousand people to the Commodore Ballroom, sells out Richards on Richards, and packs dance floors across the province with party people of all colours and stripes. It’s a throwback to the golden age of funk, when finding a good groove that people can move to was everything.

And for FAF it just kind of happened.

"We started as a six-piece and just grew from there, adding people," said guitar player and spokesman Gabe Boothroyd. "As we started adding people the sound got better and better – more percussion, more horns, and before we knew it we were up to 12, which seems like a good number."

The band plays Afrobeat music, influenced heavily by the percussion section, with the horns adding funk. One of their key influences is Nigerian performer Fela Kuti, as well as performers like James Brown and Kool and the Gang.

Still, it’s hard to figure out what rack to put the band’s first self-titled CD on. There’s a little rock in there, as well as jazz, Latin and world music.

That’s because the band is always open to new grooves and sounds, and lets the musical talent of its members speak up in its songs. A typical song – and FAF’s act is almost all original – usually starts from a groove that cropped up in a jam session, then is rearranged for the whole band by a couple of band members. Every song is collaborative to a point, and musicians are given a long leash to improvise during the solos.

Still, most of the act is painstakingly rehearsed as the band meets and practices twice a week.

"Everybody is really serious about music, and we’ve all been playing for many, many years," says Boothroyd. "We spend a lot of time rehearsing and playing shows, and we’re a pretty tight unit by now. Everything is arranged, from start to finish although there are spaces where we can stretch out a groove or improvise. We know each other well enough that it’s pretty tight."

The band also has youth and energy on its side. As of the band’s CD release in March – the last time they played Garfinkel’s – the average age of members was 23 years old.

It’s only recently that the band has attracted much in the way of media and label attention, with most of their fan base built by word of mouth. Now they are on the Warner Music label, and have had their CD played across the country.

"We’re available in record stores across the country, which is a good thing," Boothroyd says. "We even got an e-mail a little while ago telling us we were number two on one of the Toronto college radio station charts. We’ve never even been that far east before, the furthest we’ve toured is Alberta, but it’s cool that people from all over are picking it up."

Boothroyd says the band is hoping to follow their CD with a cross-Canada tour and to start playing south of the border as well.

"We’re selling out all of our Vancouver shows and getting some big crowds, and if we could do that in some other cities around North America it would be awesome."

If you missed Five Alarm Funk’s first Whistler show in March, Boothroyd describes the experience as a "dance party".

"It’s lots of fun, there’s lots of crowd interaction and involvement in the music. We’re primarily instrumental, but our drummer is like our front man and emcee and he really gets the crowd into it so it’s not just instrumental. It’s definitely a show rather than a performance, there’s lots of dancing and antics and good times."

Boothroyd’s favourite live song is Hot Funk Sunday.

"It’s about nine minutes on the CD, but in our live shows we stretch it out to like 20 minutes," raves Boothroyd. "There’s some pretty intense solos, and there’s a big guitar and sax tradeoff, a pretty intense battle between me and Eli (Spence). It’s so much fun to play."

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