The Disco Biscuits 12.28.13 Review
Attending the Disco Biscuits’ New Year’s Eve run has been one of my favorite annual traditions for the better part of a decade. Over the past few years, I have added reviewing the 12.28 show to that tradition, as it many years has been one of the better nights of music in the run.
The first late-night show of the run, I arrived late myself, just catching the end of Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. True to form, something went wrong that night. As I got settled in, I realized the battery for my camera battery was sill charging in my living room. A huge fail for the owner of a music blog, but it happens. Luckily I ran into Will McCosker down in the pit, and he was able to provide the photos for this review.
Overall, this show was great. Of course there were a few flubs and small issues, but every live performance has its ups and downs. That is just the nature of the beast.
Set 1: “Caterpillar” > “Little Betty Boop” (1) > “The Great Abyss” > “Mindless Dribble” (2) > “Caterpillar” (1) middle section only (2) dub version
The first set opened with “Caterpillar,” and the first few measures alone were telling of a good night. The band sounded in sync and played with purpose right from the outset. Always a positive indicator, Marc was bringing it hard during the first jam of “Caterpillar.” But for a brief moment immediately after they started to pick up the tempo, the band never lost their cohesion as they began to speed up. The transition into “Little Betty Boop” was high-energy and fun, and the segue was more or less seamless. Barbershreds’ noodling during “The Great Abyss” was somewhat inspired. It seemed to have all the makings of a warm-up to an excellent show from Jon, as his level of effort is always something that shines through during a performance. Even if his playing is technically perfect, you can always tell when his heart is not in it. That night, it most certainly was.
“The Great Abyss” moved into what I thought was the most interesting part of the night: a Dub version of “Mindless Dribble,” dubbed “Dub Dribble.” Though I would always prefer to hear the regular version of “Mindless Dribble,” this version of “Dub Dribble” was done well and was surprisingly high-energy for a dub version of a song. The band went into a long improv groove and clearly was having fun. The effects on Barbershreds’ vocals and the improvised dubby-ness were at times intriguing and interesting to listen to– one of the main reasons to listen to the Biscuits– but at other times they sounded muddled. It was difficult to differentiate who was playing or singing a given part, which caused the band’s cohesiveness to suffer somewhat. Overall, though, this song was a success: by the middle of the song, any problems that they had had in the beginning were resolved, and the end of the song included a number of very clean guitar solos. As they moved back into the middle section of “Caterpillar,” they picked up the tempo with a fast-paced crescendo.
Magner dominated the jam in the middle part of “Caterpillar” with purposeful chords, complemented nicely by the rest of the band. The peak of this middle section marked the high point of the second half of the first set. It was a fantastic culmination of Magner and Barbershreds working off of each other to reach a long sought-after peak in the second half of this set. The band transitioned smoothly into the chorus of the song, leaving me with a good taste in my mouth to end Set 1.
Set 2: “Resurrection” > “Crystal Ball” (3) > “Resurrection” > “Tempest” > “Sound One, Spaga” > “Floes” > “Spaga” > “Floes” > “Spaga” > “Floes” > “Spaga” (3) inverted
The second set started off with my “favorite song,” an inverted banter. Seriously though, some people don’t like chit-chat from the stage, but I usually can’t get enough. Even if you are in a crowd, it’s always nice to have the band connect with you in person rather than on social media, and the Biscuits are masters of engaging their fans online, for better or for worse.
The set started in with a calm and cool “Resurrection,” which the crowd seemed to be very pleased to hear. Marc’s vocals sounded good, and I mean that relatively when discussing the Disco Biscuits’ vocal abilities. But from the first guitar solo of this song and the smooth, jazzy synth solos, you could tell this set was going to be something special. Everyone in the band was playing something so simple, and yet, while still in first gear, the complexity and proficiency with which they were playing the song was readily apparent.
The first half of “Resurrection” was uplifting, to say the least, with Barbershreds taking home the MVP award for this song. His noodling at times felt almost rushed, but the variance of speed was negligible, and he played with the passion of an artist who was thrilled to be on stage, playing with his band. Allen is a machine and can throw down some of the hardest hitting D’n’B beats around; a bit of Bisco lore known to most fans of the band. But when Allen pulls back on the drums, as he did during “Resurrection,” you are able to appreciate his artistry and raw talent as a musician. His minimalist approach during “Resurrection” was one of the highlights of my run. Once again, he was able to make an otherwise simple or minimal contribution to a song really shine through as a perfectly crafted element, off of which the rest of the band feeds.
“Resurrection” gave way to an inverted “Crystal Ball.” The vocals in the end segment of the song were a bit jumbled, but once the band got into the jam section, all hell broke loose and the band started a well-played, entrancing, long crescendo that somewhat shakily transitioned into the beginning section of the song.
They played back into “Resurrection” for a great finish to the sandwich. Ending with a high energy dance beat, they passed seamlessly into a short but dancy “Tempest,” which then flowed nicely into a calm and relaxing “Sound One.” “Sound One” was great to hear, and was dedicated to their former drummer, Sammy Altman, who was there that night among the crowd. Magner laid down some jazzy 1.0 sounding chords, complemented nicely by some noodling from the Barbershreads’ side of the stage to complete “Sound One.”
The band then started something that I have never seen before: a serpentine though the A and B parts of two songs, switching no less than six times back and forth between “Spaga” and “Floes”(which for simplicity’s sake I will refer to as “Faga”). A slow creeping start to “Spaga” got me excited to hear my favorite tale about a dragon (well, other than Lord of the Rings). Heavy and precise basslines dominated the introduction section of “Spaga,” with Marc taking command of the first section. I always think while listening to “Spaga” that Magner should sing more, possibly being the most vocally gifted of the bunch, but as I said earlier, that is all relative.
As the song moved into “Floes” after only about two and a half minutes of “Spaga,” I was somewhat confused – It’s abnormal for them to play so little of a song before transitioning to another. – Regardless, it was upbeat and just what everyone seemed to want to hear. The first section of “Floes” into the chorus was tight and well played. The chorus section was funky again, with deep basslines; Marc seemed determined to show us that he could shine in a song even when all of the other members of the band are on point. They went back into “Spaga” momentarily, a tease even, only to return to “Floes.” The basslines and drumming were paramount in this section. The only thing I was left wanting in the “Floes” verse 3 section was Barbershreds “scream.” It lacked the enthusiasm and gusto with which the rest of his vocals and playing embodied throughout the night.
When they went back in “Spaga C#,” they finally played into a proper jam, which was hard to differentiate from “Floes” when the transition first occurred. However, by the time they went back into “Floes” again for the “Floes A Jam,” you were able to easily discern that it was a “Spaga” jam. The “Spaga” jam was one of the highlights of what is one of the best sets of the Biscuits I have seen in some time. When they finally reverted to the “Floes” jam, they slowed their roll just enough to make it sound pretty and to give a little bit of space to spotlight the drum machine we all love. Barbershreds and Allen seemed to team up in this section to keep a steady pace and let Magner sprinkle in some of those deep electronic organ sounds that give jams an aura of jam band piety.
This steady ever-crescendoing jam is what [at least] I always hope for from the Biscuits. Tight and together, they seemed to not miss a beat as they slowly built the song up over several minutes. As the jam neared its climax, Barbershreds started to increase the tempo as he increased the pace of his noodling, transitioning into the vocals of this section with ease and without losing much, if any, momentum. About a minute and a half into the next segment, a funky bass-driven “Spaga” reprised in time to go back into the verses, with stronger vocals from Barbershreds this time around. Throughout all of the “Faga” section, Marc drove home well-timed and deep, rich basslines.
Encore: Run Like Hell
As the encore began, I couldn’t help but smile. Allen was keeping the beat as Magner came in strong, about two and a half minutes in, with those alien sounds and chords that the Biscuits have perfected. A spaced out and jammy intro was just what was needed after “Faga.” As they picked up the tempo, Allen, for the frist time all night, took the lead: setting the pace, kicking ass and taking names with perfectly placed beats and cymbal crashes. Even the synth-heavy ‘start’ of the song proper around four minutes into the intro jam seemed to be percussion-centric.
About halfway through the song, Magner took over and a classic, Biscuit’s “Run Like Hell,” came into focus. About 9 minutes into the song, Barbershreds’ guitar playing became organic-sounding and not super noodle-y, contrasting with the tripped out sounds that the rest of the band was making. It seemed as though the rest of the band was jamming while Babershreds kept the song on track. Slowly one by one they all came out of the disjointed take on the song and got in line with Barbershreds, slowly fading out of the weird, alien funk they had conjured up. The song lacked the energy of the rest of the show but was well executed and a solid way to end the night.
This show was one of the most enjoyable nights of the Biscuits I have seen in years. With no major flubbs and a high energy and fantastic second set I give this show a 8.8 out of 10. I hope to see more inspired shows like this in the future.
Photos By Will McCosker