Camp Bisco – Full Artists Reviews and More
With a stacked lineup including acts like STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Lotus, Bassnectar, Thievery Corporation and, of course, the Disco Biscuits, Camp Bisco 12 could be said to be the start of a new era for Camp Bisco. No longer is Camp Bisco just a party in the woods put on by the Disco Biscuits. MCP has elevated the festival to an internationally renowned musical gathering of a much higher caliber than previous years, while maintaining the no-frills vibe that makes Camp Bisco so unique.
While the same general tenets of the festival remained in place — rage, rest and repeat – this summer there were a ton of new elements that made the whole experience that much better. The addition of a chilled-out downtempo stage by the lake was a nice feature that I felt had been missing from Bisco in the past. Festival-goers were even able to enjoy this new stage while relaxing in a grove of hammocks placed nearby.
While I personally had to wait over 12 hours to enter the festival, the new entry procedure seemed to work out for most, with wait times averaging no more than a few hours.
One of the most amazing occurrences at this summer’s Camp was the weather. Though it rained for some days leading up to the weekend, come Thursday it was beautiful, dry and sunny, yet not too hot. It seems like MCP must have done something to please Ra (the Egyptian Sun God), since it ALWAYS rains at Camp Bisco. It was actually one of the most enjoyable festival experiences I’ve had in terms of weather and dealing with the elements.
MCP tried something different this Camp in their overall organization of the festival grounds. They created an area in the center that contained almost all of the vendors and stages. The setting appeared to be molded after the Centeroo design of Bonnaroo. The entrances to the center area were staffed by the biker security who, until this year, were more commonly seen only at the entrances to the festival grounds. The security staff was courteous and generally professional. Fortunately, the lines to access the staging area moved quickly and with little issue – only occasionally were there long lines to enter this area. Unfortunately, those happened to be at the most important times, but such is life.
DAY 1, Thursday July 11, 2013
Set 1: Wappy Sprayberry > Breathe, The Triple Wide > Jimmy Stewart (w/ lyrics) > The Triple Wide, In the Kitchen, Partyin’ Peeps, Home Again, The Linear, Booth Love
To everyone’s pleasant surprise after viewing the hilarious Camp Bisco hype video, Umphrey’s did not deliver a slew of undanceable prog rock songs. “Wappy Sprayberry” was a nice way to welcome UM back to the stage since their last appearance at Camp VII. Bassist Ryan Stasick was absent due to the unexpected birth of his new baby, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise when Marc Brownstein of the Disco Biscuits and Dave Murphy of STS9 filled in. This substitution seemed to appease Biscuits fans and injected an electronic flare into their usually rock-y set. The boys from Chicago turned the excitement up a notch when they brought on stage another Biscuit: Jon ‘The Barber’ Gutwillig, aka Barbershreds. Barber was brought on stage mid-set to play none other than one of the Biscuits’ own signature songs, “Home Again.” A song typically reserved at Camp for encores and/or pivotal moments. This was an interesting but welcome addition to the UM set and reminded us what close friends the members of the bands are.
The Disco Biscuits
Set 1: 7-11 > Abraxas > Spaga > 7-11 > I-Man
For the first time in many years, almost all of my highlights from the weekend came from the Biscuits themselves. Their set on Thursday was solid and many hoped it would be indicative of their playing for the rest of the festival.
The set started with “7-11,” an apt way to commence considering the date of the festival [7.11.13.] “7-11” off the bat was dance-y and trancy with that signature untz that Allen brings to the band coming through strong. Next came the instrumental epic “Abraxas,” written in an Amsterdam coffee shop of the same name during one of the Biscuits’ first appearances at Jam on the Dam. Having personally been to that coffee shop, I can say that the song is well-named. It is intense and exotic, much like the famed hot chocolate, and other goodies, that can be found at its namesake coffee shop. About a quarter of the way through “Abraxas,” it was clear that the Biscuits were playing with no reservations. Fast-paced and tight, the Biscuits didn’t seem to be playing it safe, heading right out of the starting gate at a fast sprint that they impressively maintained all weekend.
The classic “Spaga,” a saga about a dragon, came next and it became clear that all of the members of the band had their heads in the game. Magner’s staccato notes, which I have noted in the past are something of a specialty of his, were present throughout the second third of the song. Barbershreds was something of a mystery in this song, lending his unique style of noodling to “Spaga” in all the right ways . Around the 10-minute mark “Spaga” did get slightly monotonous, but that was one of the few moments that the band wandered into a musical abyss all weekend. The crowd waded through the end of “Spaga” only to be greeted with the end of “7-11.” The 2nd half of “7-11” picked up during the chorus and Barbershreds kept the rhythm and stayed solid with his vocals, pleasantly surprising Biscuits fans who are used to vocals being the Achilles heel of the Biscuits’ live act. As the band picked up during the first half of this section of the song, a slow and heart-thumping beat crept in and a bass-driven techno jam took over the melody.
The drop into the set closer “I-man” was smooth and seemed flawless at first first, but the intro into the first verse was lackluster and contributed to a loss of momentum that the band had built up throughout the rest of the set. They quickly regained steam and the song transitioned into a spaced-out section guided mostly by Barber and Magner with echoing clapping sounds that seemed to eerily emanate from the musicians themselves.
As the Biscuits entered the second verse they appeared to be trying very hard to bring back the power and energy they had started the set with, with varying levels of success. Magner rebounded with what turned into a short but well-executed solo around the ten-minute mark with some light but soulful compliments from Barber. The rest of the 23-minute song went off without a hitch, a sign that the band had been practicing. They all performed like musicians who felt comfortable with each other and were having fun on stage.
Day 2 Friday July 12, 2013
The Disco Biscuits
Set 1: 42 > Helicopters > Cyclone > Portal To An Empty Head, House Dog Party Favor
The set started with “42;” not the most energetic version of the song to date, but solid nonetheless. Magner’s contributions to this song could easily be heard as a glitchy side melody that created the allure of instability while still being in sync with the rest of the band. Barber’s guitar solos around the six minute and thirty second mark were emblematic of how precise he was all weekend. That section moved effortlessly into a drum-fueled breakdown with short electronic staccato notes and a long, drawn-out crescendo into decrescendo that only slightly varied in intensity but was a subtle and intricate arrangement. The staccato note continued unabated and became the driving force for several minutes, creating an anxious trance beat. Around the 12-minute mark it was clear that the standard they had set during their first set the day before could be easily topped. In a weekend of 6 phenomenal sets from the band, it becomes difficult to judge them by comparison. But what was apparent almost all weekend was that each set increased in intensity and musicianship. “42”was no exception. Towards the end of the song the pace picked up and so did the complexity and expertise with which the band members executed each of their parts.
Around the 18+ minutes into “42,” the pace picked up even more and rocketed into “Helicopters” with a notable amount of Barber’s signature noodling style. This segment of “42,” which would remain unfinished until the end of the day, was expertly played. Like most of the Biscuits that I saw this weekend, it was above and beyond anything I have seen from the band in a number of years. The smooth transition into Helicopters was impressive considering the pace the band was playing at. But a segue did not stop them as they blissfully transitioned swings and went right into the chorus of “Helicopters.” Look out below…
The first movement of “Helicopters,” played with a slower beat and pace, came as a welcome reprieve from the fast-paced madness of the previous juggernaut of a song, “42.” The guitar accompaniments helped transition into the third movement of the song dominated by Magner. Allen took over with a drumbeat that kicked it up a notch for a transient throw-down. I’ve seen my fair share of disappointing Biscuits shows, but to my pleasant surprise, the band was playing as if their lives depended on it.
“Cyclone” came next and was as fast-paced as ever. While this song is not at the top of my list, it was played very well and the composition reached a fever pitch that had everyone dancing. It then slowly dipped into a section of and amalgamation of fascinating sounds to quietly transition into “Portal to an Empty Head” – an interesting segue to say the least. Brownie, who in recent years has become known for his– let’s say ‘unique” vocals that border on spoken word poetry, sounded better than he has in some time. While we can never reasonably expect melodic vocals, he was in key and the gravelly quality of his voice complemented his singing, as it was much reduced from how it has been previously. Although, close to the end of the first verse his voice did falter and crack a bit, he soon regained his vocal poise during the first chorus. The band then moved into “House Dog Party Favor.” It was a sub-par version of this song and my least favorite song in the set. However, it left me with a fantastic feeling and only made me more excited to see what they had in store for us later in the night.
On my way back into the center area of the festival, I couldn’t believe the size of the line to get in for the second Biscuits set. At the beginning of this set was the only time I really had to wait more the a few minutes to get inside.
The Disco Biscuits
Set 2: Killing In The Name, Pygmy Twylyte > Spacebirdmatingcall > The Great Abyss > Hot Air Balloon> Lunar Pursuit > Pilin’ It High1 > Reactor2
Encore: Highwire > 42
I heard “Killing in the Name” playing in the distance as I waited in line to enter the center area and breathed a sigh of relief, assuming it was the house’s music before their set. I sang along to myself and bobbed my head to the song as I moved through the line. As I entered the center area I quickly realized that it was the Biscuits covering Rage Against the Machine – and it was fairly good! Sometimes it’s nice to see that it’s not all pelicans and caterpillars and that the Biscuits know how to get dark. To my pleasant surprise “Pygmy Twylyte” came next, one of a shortening list of songs that I have never seen before. Light and whimsical, this song let you known that the Biscuits were not going to just maintain the tight and well-executed groove they had fostered during the first set. Instead they were going to build on it. Usually, I am the first to nitpick on flubs and botched segues or solos, but I find myself looking back at the weekend and find only a few major issues with the Biscuits’ performances that weekend. Towards the end of “Pygmy Twylyte,” “Spacebirdmpacebirdmatingcall” began to get teased– it was obvious from the first note. They weaved in and out of the two songs, merging them as if it was a single composition that had been played that way 1,000 times before. The start of “Spacebird” proper began with the band kicking it up a notch and laying down some elevating trance beats before moving into the melody. A heavy e-drum beat proved a bit overbearing, but I like to see that Allen is experimenting with new idiosyncrasies of style. Right before they went into the first chorus, there seemed to be a moment where everyone unintentionally skipped a beat. Quite impressively, by the next note they were all back on track, noodling, drumming and playing their hearts out. It’s always amazing to see your favorite band having fun at their own festival. But to see your favorite band play some of their best sets in years at their own festival is particularly special.
Towards the end of “Spacebird,” things started to get serious with heavy funk featuring melodic notes and emphasis on the guitar and e-drums. The increased use of the e-drums is something I have not yet decided if I am a fan of.
They moved into “The Great Abyss” at a great speed, even a bit rushed. The beginning of the song was shaky but about a third of the way in they seemed to have found their footing. The rest of the song was fantastically played although still a bit fast. Midway through the song they really hit their stride. The middle part to the end of the song was chock full of many of those familiar electronic sounds that Magner loves to use, complemented nicely by some mid-range screeching noodling from Barber in the last few minutes of the song. Barber showed us what he was made of in the segue from “The Great Abyss” into “Hot Air Balloon,” which triumphantly opened to cheering crowds. I love this song because it incorporates sounds of a synth emulating an organic piano. Right after the first verse there was a small hiccup, but it was minor and the rest of the song was well played. Most impressively, none of the lyrics were muddled and the vocals were not overpowered, so kudos to either Barber or the sound engineer for getting it right. The bass lines and guitar were not only both impressive on their own, but played off each other like you only hope the instruments in a quartet would.
The pace picked up again as they went into “Lunar Pursuit,” lots of cymbals and e-drums from Allen and a big build right at the beginning before going into the main melody. Aptly named, this interstellar song relies heavily on the more electronic elements of the band’s style– a nice contrast from “Hot Air Balloon,” which is usually toward the other end of the spectrum. Spacey jams pervaded the middle of the quarter of an hour instrumental composition. In the last two minutes, everything got faster only to slow down since again for “Pilin’ It Higher,” the introduction to which was decorated with staccato sounds that resembled alien techno. Here the Biscuits seemed to be combining old and new with electronic sounds simultaneously using overlaying organic guitar and drums. This was a “perfume” version of the song which, in the case of “Pilin’ It Higher,” usually means the incorporation of dubby sounds among other modifications that the band makes on the fly. However, in my opinion, it was the least perfume-like version of this song I personally have ever seen performed. The last non-perfume version I saw was Saturday of Camp 8. As they moved effortlessly into “Reactor,” I was not even aware of the song change until a few minutes into the song.
The song ended and when the band finally spoke it was about ragesticks. Ugh, sigh….enough said.
The encore that night was “Highwire” during which Barber shined. Then, to everyone great surprise and pleasure, the Biscuits transitioned into the end of “42,” which Barber also dominated all of the high points with high-pitched guitar that would bring anyone to a peak.
Day two saw the cancellation of one of the most anticipated acts on the lineup: Animal Collective, due to illness. However, MCP Presents did not let their removal from the lineup fall by the wayside. At the last minute they filled the slot with Thievery Corporation Live; which must have been a difficult booking to seal the deal on, but somehow they pulled it off. Fun and dancy in all of the right places, Thievery Corporation brought a dance party to Camp Bisco that I dare say Animal Collective could not have competed with.
Thievery Corporation’s set could only be described as: ruckus, worldly, exciting, energetic, and groovy.
Later that night I walked into the Label Tent, the smaller of the two tents, for the last 25 minutes of Gigamesh. Smooth and sensual, it was easy to see why this disco house virtuoso was billed for late night. Easily danceable and accessible, Gigamesh embodies one of the many reasons disco has made a comeback in the form of nudiscio. Gigamesh’s style incorporate’s heavy but fluid disco hooks complemented by classical elements of deep house beats.
After Gigamesh ended, a tough decision had to be made: Aeroplane or Lotus. Having been unimpressed by Aeroplane a few Camps prior, I went with an old staple of my musical diet, Lotus.
Choosing Lotus turned out to be a good decision. To put it simply: they killed it. I have seen Lotus a number of times over the years and although they fell off for a bit, they finally have it together again. As a result, I’m going to use the word “shredding” a lot to describe this Lotus’ set because that is exactly what they did, shred.
Blacklight Sunflare>Flower Sermon>Middle Road (The Part Where Baauer’s LD Unplugged Power to Downstage and We Played Drums)>Middle Road>Kodiak, Its all Clear To Me Now>Hamerstrike>Cannon in the Heavens>Behind Midwest Store Fronts>Jump Off
“Flower Sermon” may have been the highlight of the whole set. Well-composed and executed, this is always one of my favorite songs when played. A notable moment during the set came during a man-made power outage. Allegedly, Bauer’s [of “Harlem Shake” fame] lighting designer pulled out the power, but Lotus did not miss a beat. They performed an extended drums to cover the loss of the use of the sound system speakers. They also played “Midwest Storefronts,” a song I do not usually enjoy, but it was a welcome escape from the shredding fast pace of the rest of the set.
“It’s All Clear To Me Now” was really great to hear; it’s an old song that I don’t think I have seen played in years. This song really laid on the nostalgia for me. “Hamerstrike,” usually very rocky and not in my top tier of songs, but this version was well placed in the set. “Jump Off” is always a huge part of any set. This version, like so many others, was a funk powerhouse that did not disappoint. “Jump Off” started as a funk throw-down and transitioned smoothly into the second section of the song, a trancy funk melody with a deep baseline that gracefully crescendoed into a rocky anthem that continued upwards into a memorable drop.
You can watch the full set in stunning HD here.
The band sounded tight and played with the expertise of a band that has been on the road for the past few years. Lotus’ heavy tour schedule is finally showing in their cohesiveness and musicianship. This may have been the best Lotus show I have seen since mid-2008.
Day 3 Saturday July 13, 2013
On Saturday the schedule was halted on the main stage because the left stage needed repair. The first several acts of the day were cancelled with updates being sent via Facebook and email. The addition of announcements via PA would have been helpful and easy to do, considering the number of speakers and huge sound systems on stage. A large number of festival-goers made their way down to the main stage for the day’s sets only to have to wait about mid-field behind barriers while construction crews worked to fix the stage. The details about the cause of the stage malfunction on Saturday are still unclear. But rumors allege that the bass heavy set from Bassnectar the night before caused the stage to start to sink into the ground.
Set 1: Frog Legs, Svenghali, Magellan > Strobelights and Martinis1 > Magellan2, Spy
2with “Stir It Up” (Bob Marley) jam
If you are a fan of the Disco Biscuits then you will be sorry if you missed this year’s Camp Bisco purely based on Saturday’s three sets. Set one was a personal triumph for me including the “Magellan” and “Strobe Lights & Martinis” sandwich. “Strobe Lights & Martinis” even included Daft Punk “Get Lucky” teases from Barber around the nine minute and thirty second mark in the song. “Magellan,” the only song I really wanted to hear going into Camp, was played with a professional aptitude that the Biscuits have not had in a number of years. I’m still in awe of the beginning of the 2nd half of this song. It was “Magellan” like I’ve never heard it before, and to top that there was a surprise cover jam mixed in towards the end, “Stir it up!” The “Stir It Up” jam in the second half of the sandwich was expertly executed and displayed the band’s creativity, incorporating a reggae song into a jamamtronica ballad. It provided a lighthearted exit, a quick break for everyone to catch their breath, which was very welcome after such an intense song. “ Magellan” ended and Marc thanked everyone for coming to Camp Bisco and then they went into “Spy,” a groovy swinging song on the more organic side. Set one was some of the best Biscuits I have seen in years. If I had only known that was an indication of how well they would play the rest of the day, then I would have called everyone I knew that wasn’t at Camp Bisco and told them to immediately haul ass to the festival.
Set 2: M.E.M.P.H.I.S.1 > Floes > Story Of The World > Rock Candy > Tricycle > Orch Theme > Story Of The World
Set 3: Run Like Hell > Little Shimmy In A Conga Line3 > Mindless Dribble4 > Munchkin Invasion >Crickets5 > Run Like Hell
Encore: Jamillia > Tempest > Munchkin Invasion
5middle section only
The encore was something to write home about. Starting with “Jamilia,” a fun and light song. The organic piano from Magner was the highlight of this song, really displaying his classical training. The end of the song got trancy as they ratcheted up the intensity at a slow but compelling pace. As they moved into “Tempest,” the intensity continued to increase with Magner acting as a heavyweight throughout the song. Still moving upwards in intensity, they transitioned into the end of “Munchkin Invasion.” Uplifting and expertly played, this was a fantastic night cap on what was one of the best days of music I have ever seen from the Disco Biscuits in the many years I have been going to see them play.
Camp Bisco this year gave me a sense of separation. Even though the dance tents were closer to the main stage, I felt more separated from it. The music was more segregated than ever this year, with the main stages playing host to almost all of the live music and the tents containing all most all of the “EDM.” Their close proximity made the trek for people who like both easy enough and it did a lot to separate the crowds who many times do not see eye to eye on proper festival etiquette.
All in all, this year’s Camp Bisco was, in my opinion, one of the better ones. Well maintained and only a few kinks with the new set up is no easy task when it comes to running a small city of 15,000 people. I would like to thank MCP and the Disco Biscuits for hosting Sensible Reason and the wonderful memories that they gave everyone that attended. See you all at ILCC next year for another crazy weekend of music, art and, of course, the Disco Biscuits.