Writing by Jeff Kurtz Photography by Greg Sarafan.
Last week, the Disco Biscuits returned to the New York stage at Best Buy Theater in Times Square for three sold out nights as the first leg of their annual New Year’s run. After last year’s New York portion of the run — a three-night stand at Terminal 5 that featured a rotating cast of drummers in light of usual drummer Allen Aucoin’s near-fatal asthma attack — Bisco fans all over the tri-state area (this fan included) were hyped to see their favorite band in its entirety back at what many consider to be the hometown venue. Add the fact that the Disco Biscuits have not embarked on any of their own tours this year and that most fans had not seen them since their annual Camp Bisco festival this past summer, and one could understand why there was such electricity in the air.
The first night kicked off with DJ opener Mord Fustang. Mord’s style proved to be a screechy electro-womp a la Skrillex that I tend to find a bit abrasive on the ears; I personally spent majority of his set in the lobby of Best Buy Theater getting reacquainted with old friends and building up excitement for the main act of the evening. Once the band took the stage, the crowd at Best Buy started a roar that turned into an absolute explosion when the opener revealed itself to be Resurrection, a rare tune that had not been played in almost two years. The first set of the run was an interesting set, song-wise, and definitely the full-on dance party that was expected. Resurrection gave way to Plan B, a heavy, Marc Brownstein-penned song from his Chemical Warfare Brigade opera that gave way to the always funky Aceetobee, a personal favorite. Joining the couple thousand people in Best Buy singing the verse to Aceetobee put this fan on Cloud 9 in a reminder as to why I love this band so much. Unfinished, Aceetobee transitioned into the poppy You And I, which in turn sparked a jam into Mr. Don, which was jammed beautifully itself and finished the set with a bang.
The second set, though, was where the band seemed to find its groove. They kicked it off with a standalone Spraypaint, one of the more frequently played songs of the past year that has turned into a safe song but allows for familiar playing to help create a rhythm. This standalone was followed by a tasty sandwich, to say the least. A beautiful love song, Shelby Rose (another Brownstein-penned track from Chemical Warfare Brigade) kicked things up a notch. From Shelby came the middle of Crickets, one of the most euphoric musical peaks in the entire Biscuits catalog. At this point, guitarist Jon “Barber” Gutwillig turned it up to 11 and shredded the jam to bits and pieces, sending the crowd into a total frenzy. The middle of Crickets gave way to The Great Abyss, a solid middle for the palindrome that would complete itself with the beginning/end of Crickets segueing into the end of Shelby Rose. The band encored with I Remember When, a fan favorite that I had not seen since my first Disco Biscuits show back in 2007 and was more than thrilled to belt out the words to, and not in my car for a change of pace.
After a slightly sloppy, but promising, first night, I was stoked to return to the Best Buy Theater for round two. December 27, 2011 kicked off with producer Dave Tipper, known solely as Tipper, although to call him just a producer is an understatement. Tipper creates soundscapes using electronic music genres, from ambient to trip hop to breakbeat, littered with the most unbelievable sounds that can only be described as aliens conversing. A huge fan of Tipper’s crunchy style, I was surprised more of the crowd had not gotten there in time to see this genius in action, as every Tipper set I have had the opportunity to see has left me in a state of shock and awe, this one included. After the dance floor was warmed up, the Disco Biscuits took the stage yet again. While night one was nothing to be ashamed of, the second night kicked off with an unparalleled bang in the form of Jigsaw Earth, a fan favorite that had everyone going nuts. The last time I saw Jigsaw Earth was at Bisco Inferno, the Biscuits’ day-long event at Red Rocks Amphitheatre over Memorial Day weekend, and this December 27th version blew it out of the water. Perfect drops, flawless playing, and a phenomenal drum solo from Aucoin let the audience know that this was about to be a night for the books. The set followed with what at first appeared to be another palindrome sandwich, starting with the Barber-penned Hot Air Balloon from the opera of the same name and leading into the pretty and airy Naeba. From Naeba came a New Year’s run staple that was missing from last year, Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, a jam that really brings out the holiday spirit. Sandwiching the Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies was the end of Naeba which jammed into another personal favorite, Gangster. The Gangster was an incredibly patient jam with keyboardist Aron Magner laying down his “I’m a gangster” sample with the vocoder in an unusually slow and trippy way, while creating a slow and melodic build up in what he has helped to create as the Biscuits’ signature sound. My highlight of the evening, this wicked version of Gangster segued into the beautifully rendered conclusion of Hot Air Balloon, played perfectly by the entire band.
After a well-deserved water break, the band returned to the stage with Triumph, another throwback that had not seen an East Coast stage in over a year and a half. The rockin’ Triumph jammed its way into the also rockin’ end of Aceetobee, completing the December 26, 2011 version of the night before. Unfortunately for this fan, the next song up was an unfinished version of Shem Rah Boo. While I absolutely love Shem Rah Boo, I also absolutely love the ending, which our favorite boys have neglected to play in over a year for reasons unknown. At this point, with the pestering I’ve laid on bassist Brownstein via social networking sites, I could only assume that my frustration is amusing the band enough to keep the streak alive for this reason alone. Regardless, the excellently played Shem Rah Boo transitioned into another frequent of the past year, Digital Buddha. While I have grown tired of this song to some extent, after seeing it played at almost every Disco Biscuits run this year as well as by Brownstein and Magner’s side project, Conspirator, I must admit that this version was mind blowing. The jams were patient, the peaks were high, and the cohesive playing of the band as truly one unit had Digital Buddha sailing through the skies. While all of the members of the Disco Biscuits are individually talented musicians, it is the synergy created when they play as one that makes them special and this Digital Buddha is a testament to that synergy. The set closed with Save The Robots, a fast-paced trance throwdown played with expertise to end the show on a high note. The Biscuits came back for another one-song encore this evening, this time in the form of Wet, a standard rock’n’roll tune that highlighted Barber’s guitar playing and left us wanting more.
The third night of the Disco Biscuits’ run was a long and interesting one. After Phish announced their four-night New Year’s run at Madison Square Garden, it was noticed that the first night of Phish and this last night of Biscuits in New York overlapped. In a classy move for the fans, and an ode to their idols, the band decided to make this night a late night event for the Phish fans who wanted to see them after the show at the Garden. Opening for the band were two longtime friends, Brothers Past and Orchard Lounge. Brothers Past’s Tom Hamilton was one of a few guitarists who filled in for Barber during several shows in 2010 after an incident left him with a broken hand. Talented and tight, Brothers Past threw down a dancey, disco-infused set that kicked off the evening properly. Following Brothers Past was DJ collective Orchard Lounge, whose unique freeform style has made them a staple within the Biscuits’ community. Getting back into the electronic sound from Brothers Past’s jammy origins, Orchard Lounge delivered as usual with a murderous set that had the dance floor going like it was their own show. After an influx of Phishermen towards the end of Orchard Lounge’s set, the audience was complete and round three was set to begin.
After the previous night, I was unsure how these otherwise law abiding citizens planned to top themselves and was unsure if they even could top the previous evening. However, these doubts were soon laid to rest when the set kicked off with a beautifully exploratory The Very Moon. After watching Leora do a two-step on her hands, the band kicked into the explosive Bombs, pun intended. It was clear from the start that Barber was as on as on gets and this Bombs was the proof, blowing the roof off of the Best Buy Theater with blinding fury. From Bombs came another favorite of mine, Mulberry’s Dream. One of my favorite lines ever written, by the Disco Biscuits or otherwise, the lyrics note that “‘Life’, he said, ‘is all about style,’” and this Mulberry’s Dream was damn stylish to say the least. One of the highlights of the evening came at the end of the set, though, with a standalone My Lady Survives. The titled ending section of Haleakala Crater, My Lady Survives made an appearance this evening for the first time since Halloween 1998, sending the die-hards off the walls with excitement. After such an amazing set, again came the worry that our guys would not be able to finish the show at such a caliber. However, this anxiety was quickly neutralized. Kicking off the set with a relatively standard M.E.M.P.H.I.S., the band jammed into an inverted version of And the Ladies Were the Rest of the Night that melted the faces of everyone in attendance. Jamming out of Ladies, Barber went off on a shred-fest that left me wanting to breathe for his fingers as the band busted into what may have been the best song of the run, Cyclone, taking no prisoners along the way. After a shortened middle section of Above the Waves, the show concluded with the ever-epic House Dog Party Favor before a much needed pre-encore break. The encore and run then ended with the eerie-meets-upbeat 42, played as excellently as expected after such an amazing show, leaving the crowd dying for more as talks of power moves to Chicago for the second half of the run permeated the air.
As excited as I was going into this run, I must say I’m even more excited now that it’s over. While rumors of disagreements and issues between band members have saturated message boards all over the interweb, this past run put all of those rumors to rest. It was obvious that the band was playing well together and, more importantly, having fun playing together. By the end of the second night, everyone on stage was all smiles, and the show on night three concluded with group hugs and laughter. More than I like seeing my favorite band play well, I like to see them in the state that makes them, and any good band, so special in the first place: good friends doing what they love and loving what they do. It certainly didn’t hurt that they blazed their way through New York City and left behind a trail of musical destruction, either.
If you are so lucky, be sure to prepare for the Disco Biscuits in Mayan Riviera, Mexico in two weeks at their exclusive festival, Mayan Holidaze, alongside co-headliners Umphrey’s McGee and Sound Tribe Sector 9 from January 26, 2012 through January 30, 2012. Also be sure to keep an eye out for announcements regarding the Disco Biscuits’ festival, Camp Bisco, returning for its 11th year to Indian Lookout Country Club in Mariaville, New York from July 12, 2012 through July 14, 2012. Tickets are on sale now.