For the past two years, the Disco Biscuits have been “String Cheesing” it hard. For those of you who don’t get that reference, it refers to the String Cheese Incident only playing a few large shows and festivals a year. String Cheese is now doing full tours and working the circuit, so hopefully that is indicative of what we can expect from the Biscuits. Camp Bisco has been overrun with ravers and dubbsteppers with a lineup that, sans Biscuits, would be untenable. City Bisco’s lineup screams this is for all of you [Biscuit fans]. Luckily, this past weekend at the Mann Center was a weekend to remember.
Arriving in Philly later than planned, we were antsy and ready to go. I met my photographer and we set off walking to the Mann Center through Fairmont Park. I had never been to Fairmont Park, which is the largest urban park in the world. We walked along a paved path through the trees and happened upon the Mann Center. To my delight, there was a lot– something Bisco fans rarely get to enjoy. I wanted to go inside, but took the opportunity to walk through the Biscuits lot. Darting through the groups of flat brims and embroidered circle logos, we slowly made our way to the venue. Eventually we arrived at the box office, passing by Wyllys, who was talking to a friend through the fence, picked up our press passes and went inside.
The Mann as a venue is quite gorgeous. The amphitheater’s architecture is dynamically and compellingly designed and the grounds are clean and kept well, from the cleanliness of the bathrooms (generally) to the freshly cut grass. The amphitheater has an entirely wooden interior whose shape, I can only assume, channels sound directly to the listener. The Skyline Stage was at the top of the amphitheater at the top of a hill. When I finally walked to the top, I turned around to see a panoramic view of the Philadelphia skyline and made a mental note to go back up there later when I could enjoy the view after the sun had set.
I arrived at the top of the hill while Aeroplane was on. It was enjoyable, but after a while it started to bore me. The last time I saw Aeroplane was at the late-night for Camp Bisco 9. During that Camp set I had the same thoughts about Aeroplane, that it was good but I was bored after a while. Aeroplane’s cool, sensual, disco-esque style got me in the mood to dance (to the Biscuits). I left Aeroplane before the end of the set to go secure a good seat for the Biscuits. It was a lot easier than I thought it would be to get a seat front and center. But when I looked around, it did not seem so strange to me, since it looked like there were no more than 3,000 people to fill the huge amphitheater
The Biscuits, masters of suspense, came on late that night, only adding to the anticipation. The whole place stood and wondered when we would get to see the guys for the first time in months. The anticipation and pent up energy permeated the air so thickly you could cut the tension with a knife. When they finally came on the stage, the crowd erupted in excitement only reserved for one’s favorite band.
A jammy version of bust out ‘Truckers Choice” started out the night. The song segued smoothly into a classic “Hot Air Balloon” and the set picked up and acquired a dancey ting that lasted the rest of the set. “Astronaut” came next; all four Biscuits seemed to be on point and playing together well– something that any fan is enthralled to see. They transitioned into the ending of “And The Ladies Were The Rest Of The Night” to finish out that string of songs. After some brief banter, the band went into a stand-alone “On Time,” a short and lackluster version of the song. I usually enjoy “On Time,” but this version seemed rushed, and looking back at the rest of the set seemed out of place. They did seem to pull it together for a while, jamming in the middle of the song, but “On Time” was definitely a momentum stopper. Barber, in his wisdom or lust, dedicated the next song to “all of the ladies.” During this song Barber appeared the most constant he did all weekend. This “Shimmy” was an exciting and fast-paced, but not a rushed version of the song, to end the set in fashion.
After the first set, I left my front and center seat to go find some friends who had settled a little further up amphitheater. Upon turning around to leave my seats, I saw that most of the seats had been filled during the set, by revelers clearly happy not to have missed the entire show.
Diplo came on and I almost instantly became severely disappointed. I have seen Diplo a few times, some sets I have enjoyed while others I have left halfway through. This set was categorically the latter. The constant siren sounds and glitchy dance hop was a buzz kill, to say the least. The few hundred people who went to the front to rage during this set were surely in a minority. Diplo’s set provided an opportunity to walk to the top of the hill and enjoy the view of the City of Brotherly Love, while Diplo finished his Ultraesque dance party below.
The second set of the Biscuits started with a classic that got older heads up and out of their seats. “Little Lai” started off the set strong and eventually transitioned into one of my personal favorite Biscuits covers, “Safety Dance.” This version of “Safety Dance” was not only a cover of the chorus and verses but included a long jam that was high energy to say the least. The “Safety Jam” eventually turned back into “Lai” to finish out this highly memorable sandwich. Looking back, this sandwich was the best playing of the weekend. After “Lai” we got something that the Biscuits have been lacking recently, banter. Not just banter but banter between Barber and Brownie who were not only talking to each other but joking and laughing on stage, something that bodes well for the overall health of the band.
“I-Man” was next, and while it wasn’t a song I wanted to hear before City Bisco, I sure was happy they were playing it at the time. “I-Man” segued into “Bombs” which, regardless of its status as one of their new bangers, and at the risk of sounding super cliché, bombed. It was a sub par version of the song, uninspired and without the usual umph that I expect from the song. Things got a lot better when they thankfully transitioned into “Run Like Hell,” this version of which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was technically without many flaws and picked up the tempo greatly after “Bombs” killed the mood. The transition of “Run Like Hell” was blissfully sprinkled with staccato notes that Magner has come to perfect. Segueing back into “Hot Air Balloon” to end the set recaptured the energy from the first set.
As I said, they came on late so with 5 minutes until 12, when a sound ordinance would stop them from playing, they came back on stage for their encore. I wondered what song they could fit into that small length of time. As the first notes came out of the speakers I knew immediately what we had in store for us. “Highwire,” one of the few songs that they could, at least, try and fit into that amount of time. “Highwire” was rushed and unremarkable but still fun as always.
Getting to the Mann earlier in the day on Saturday, I was given a chance to walk around the venue, see friends and chill a lot during the day. Deathwaltz Media really did a number on the Mann; bringing in vendors really gave the whole event the touch of a festival. Tiger & Woods was the first act I went to see in earnest on Saturday. I am really glad to note the rising popularity of nu-disco. Tiger & Woods fits right into that category and gave me a chance to get down with some afternoon disco fever.
Papadosio was another act on Saturday that I was looking forward to seeing. Papa has been solid the past several times I have seen them and this set was no exception. Their set list was nothing spectacular in terms of song choice [Method of Control> Smile and Nod >By the Light of the Stars, Find Your Cloud> >Advocate of Change, Geoglyph>All I Knew], but “By the Light of the Stars” was a highlight and “Advocate of Change” was exciting to see, since it’s a personal favorite of mine. Overall, though, their set was good. I left Papadosio a little early to go and see Ott & The All Seeing I— the act besides the Biscuits that I was most excited to see.
I am not super familiar with Ott’s body of work, but it did not matter; the set was great nonetheless. At the time people were trying to convince me that it was not only comparable but better than Shpongle Live. I could not disagree more. Ott & The All Seeing I was something unto itself. Never moving out of the 5 to 8 range in terms of intensity, they were solid and tight and on point from what I could tell. The melodic fusion of DJ and live band allowed you to move your feet, but absent were the ferocious peaks that Shpongle offers. However, a comparison beyond that is unnecessary because, as I have said, Ott & The All Seeing I is its own thing and should be contextualized as such.
After Ott got off the stage, a quick trip to the lavatory got me side tracked and I somehow ended up at Paper Diamond instead of my intended destination Tipper. The only other time I saw Paper Diamond was right after he started DJing under that moniker and the diversity of his music was some what limited, but entertaining. This time around it was way better. I sat for a while and listened to his catchy electro houseica for a while. Finally, though, I decided to go and see Tipper as planned.
The last time I saw Tipper it was bad– like, really bad. But my friends swore to me it was just the circumstances: BB Kings last year after one of the nights of the NYE in NYC. It was packed– like, oversold by a few hundred people not able to stand packed. This time around I had a lot of fun at Tipper. All of Tipper’s beeps and boops are woven together to form some kind of intergalactic melody that surely is being played right now in a disco tech on one of Saturn’s moons. Sampleless and original, Tipper’s blend of alien sounds and futuristic computer language has developed a niche in the EDM scene that is understandably expanding.
The Biscuits came on, on time on Saturday and opened with a funky “M.E.M.P.H.I.S.” transitioning into a solid “Spraypaint.” They then did something that pleasantly surprised me transitioning into an inverted “Hummahummakuapua” that lifted my mood with its tropical vibe. After “Humma” they transitioned into a fast tempoed ending of “Helicopters,” with a high-energy peak that echoed some of the better Biscuits I have seen in the past few years. “Portal to an Empty Head” came next and I was only too happy to not have Barber subbed out for this one. A few slightly shaky entrances later they finally found their groove near the break down near the end of the song, after which they segwayed back into “Spraypaint.” for a phenominal ending to the song and the set.
A-Trak came on for the set break and I found his trippy style house to be up beat and danceable. Something that I appreciated was the diversity of sound and style he was able to maintain throughout his set. The highlight being the “Bohemian Rhapsody” remix that had most people up on their feet and singing along.
The second set started with an upbeat “Munchkin Invasion” and segued, yes segued, into “Rockafella,” a dubby and full-bodied version of the song. They ended “Rocakfella” and started a “Rock Candy.” At this point in the set you could tell they were having fun on stage and it came out in their playing, resulting in a “Rock Candy” for the ages. “Rock Candy” turned into a razor sharp “Above the Waves” which moved seamlessly into a “House Dog Party Favor.” “House Dog Party Favor” turned back into “Above The Waves” with a soul shredding guitar solo from “the Barber” that reminded many why they love the Biscuits. Saturday night they left plenty of time for the encore, first finishing “And The Ladies Were The Rest Of The Night” and then finishing “I-Man” to end the weekend.
Overall City Bisco was a treat for any Biscuits fan. While their playing did not have the consistency that comes with 100 shows a year, getting to see them at all at this point is what you return for. The weekend was filled with friends, good music, and above all the Biscuits.