The Disco Biscuits: Night 1 of NYE Run – A Review to Remember
Catskill Chill expressed it best, with a handy digital flyer highlighting just a segment of the massive number of artists that annually grace New York City for the transition from one year to the next. One of my dear friends and colleagues, has astutely, albeit not novelly, asserted that “New Year’s Eve run in NYC is the best festival of the year.” There is almost nothing you can’t find to satisfy your most deviant musical desires. Looking over the poster and considering it is only a limited assortment of the musicians playing in NYC from Christmas until, this year, Monday January 3rd, confirms this almost astounding certainty. The problem that arises is, if you like a diverse array of music, how do you decide what to go to? I for one, have been both lucky and in the eyes of some, unlucky to have never had that issue. Now, for the better part of a decade there is really only one thing that feels appropriate: to celebrate the end of a year and the beginning of another with The Disco Biscuits.
The Disco Biscuits have, intermittently, played elsewhere for New Year’s Eve — and I have intermittently not been in attendance — but luckily for us New Yorkers, that is the exception rather than the rule. It’s understandable, when considering the other options. Play a beautiful theater, in a rundown area of Philadelphia, or a theater in Chicago where the windchill outside makes Hoth seem like a summer vacation spot, or play in the center of the universe. With options like Times Square and The Theater at Madison Square Garden, it’s hard to argue that there are many, nay, any better places to celebrate New Year’s Eve.
So, if you have gotten this far and are confused by my meandering, non-contextual description of the choice of a band you might not have heard of, or that you might not know much about choosing a place to play on New Year’s Eve, let me help you out. (If you know exactly what I am talking about skip ahead to the next section, or just keep reading, my self-indulgent wit is likely to get the better of me). The Disco Biscuits, formed in Philadelphia in the mid-nineties, was the brain child of some rambunctious Ivy League Phish fans: Marc Brownstein, Aron Magner, Jon “The Barber” Gutwillig, and Sam Altman. I believe in those days, to their friends, they were known individually as Ivy Phishers or Phishy Leaguers. Throughout the 1990s and into the early 2000s the band relied heavily on their influencers, like Phish, Pink Floyd and Frank “the Tank” Zappa.
Slowly, the Biscuits developed their own signature sound, colloquially known as, trance-fusion. The band continued to garner supporters and followers as their idols, Phish broke up, got back together, broke up and got back together, and generally jerked their fans around to the point where Phish’s own fans started to abandon them for something new and exciting; that thing being The Disco Biscuits. By this time the band was known as the Godfathers of Trance-Fusion and a notion that the band took to heart. None more than drummer Sam Altman, who because of a slight hearing problem — the result of being mauled by a herd of large guinea pigs at a petting zoo when he was younger — thought that the band was known as the God-Fathers of Transfusions. Unable to be deterred and hoping to out-do his trance-fusing bandmates, Sam left the band in 2005 with the goal of becoming a medical doctor and to perform actual transfusions, not just perform in a band that helped invent a musical genre with a slightly-confusing similar name.
After Sam Altman left for medical school, the band added a former gypsy, Allen Aucoin, to the lineup as their drummer, resident robot, and vending machine that is powered by Red Bull. Since that time, the band has continued to tour and develop their signature sound, adding a little extra untz from Allen along the way.
The Disco Biscuits are also the purveyors of the famed music festival, Camp Bisco, which for several years now, has helped artists such as Bassnectar, rise to previously unimaginable prominence. In the late 2000s, Jon “the Gutwillig” Barber, the fashion-wise guitarist of the group, cited by many observers as a modern day Freddie Mercury, jump suit and all, broke into the DJ world. With hit after hit, the band’s future was in jeopardy. Finally, the last thing Jon hit broke his hand in an incident known as Wrist-Gate, leading to a period known as The Mega-Biscuits.
The Mega Biscuits continued to tour, now with the addition of Tom Hamilton, a notorious scarf and cap aficionado, and Chris Michetti of RAQ, filling in on guitar. Following The Mega-Biscuits tour which wrapped-up in 2010 were a number of years of intermittent destination runs spread throughout the country, and by that I mean New York, Philly and Colorado. During this this time the band came out with a highly anticipated and much loved electropop album resulting in their highest charting song to date, “On Time” and even some video play-time on which ever one of the MTV channels that still plays music videos.
In the past few years the Biscuits have gotten back to their roots. By 2011, the band was playing more shows, having frank, open, and cordial discussions with their fans on social media, as well as releasing another album, Otherwise Law Abiding Citizens (OLAC). OLAC was well received by fans and is considered to be the studio album that most closely approaches their live performances in sound and style. The band rewarded said fans, by using photos of them on the album cover implying they are criminals, a welcome implication from fans of any band.
Only in the past few years have the number of shows the band has played annually, started to approach pre-Wrist-Gate levels. The band has shown a renewed vigor for performing, in an attempt to rekindle the momentum once lauded by the band as one of their defining characteristics.
[box]Now back you your regularly scheduled review.[/box]
The Disco Biscuits – Night 1: The Devil is in the Details, and Behind The Eyes of Every Child.
December 30, 2015 — Night 1 started off with a personal favorite of mine opening up the show, Horizon Wireless. Now, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I am the reason that this Housedelica (a term I coined), duo from “the hood,” know each other, but enough with the digressions and on with the review.
Set 1, started off with “Crickets,” a great way to begin a show, let alone a run. The song starts slowly and gradually envelops you, allowing you to adjust from the normal world of sound, to the several hours you have in store of the transfusing trance-fusion of the Disco Biscuits. “Crickets” morphed into “The Very Moon” and upon the special request of “the fan,” Beef, who wrote the set list, it was no moon, it was a battle station! And by battle station I mean (spoiler alert), a funk-infused section of the middle to the end of the song, that even had the recently deceased Han Solo dancing from the grave. Too soon? Typically, “The Very Moon” is a light and pretty song, but this version was heavy with a fast moving tempo and sinister melody.
“The Very Moon” went back into “Crickets” ending in a hard stop before the band launched into “Morph Dusseldorf.” This composition incorporated a number of well-timed melodic flourishes from Barber, and overall had tight and well composed jams. “Morph” next morphed into “Rock Candy.” “Rock Candy” is usually a powerhouse of high energy electronic-madness. This rendition, however, fell a little flat and comprised the least energetic segment of the set. The transition from”Rock Candy” into “Digital Buddha” was more-or-less seamless, in fact, the changeover almost snuck up on me entirely. About four-to-five minutes into the song, the tempo really started to pick up, with a pulsing drum beat, brought to you by Red Bull (it gives you wings). “Buddha” ended, as did the set. Overall, not a bad way to start off the run.
Set 2 was also a “fan” setlist, straight from the mind of famed digital archivist restoration enthusiast, Rich Steele. This set had a few things going for it. To be fair, it had a lot of things going for it. Interwoven songs and one of the primary jam-vehicles that the Biscuits have in their repeater, “Basis for a Day.” The set opened with the aforementioned song, slow and comforting, like a moonlit stroll, hand-in-hand with the Pink Power Ranger. And like the Pink Power Ranger, “Basis'” pleasing and comforting exterior is only a mask for the puttie punching, transforming juggernaut of a song “Basis For a Day” really is; when you peer under its pink latex suit you are face-to-face with its wild and seductive pink womanhood. “Basis” transitioned into “Spacebirdmatingcall,” a personal favorite of mine. This version was a spacey jam that was not lacking in that particular Disco Biscuits-umph that gets you moving on the dance floor. The well placed staccato notes from Barber complemented a well tuned bass line from the Kim Kardashian of the jam-world himself, Marc Brownstein. Normally, while listening to a live performance, I am not as attuned to the bass line as I am to the guitar. However, something about Marc’s playing throughout this set was indicative of what I hope to accomplish every time I have my ticket scanned and walk into a Biscuits show, finding a beat that I can dance too. That is what Marc did throughout this set, he laid it down.
[box]I’m sure if I slept a lot of the time I could think of more punny superlatives to describe his contribution, but I’m just not going to do that; was I not self-indulgently clever enough in the band’s history section above? To be plain, that night Marc was very good. Maybe even very, very good. Although, I wouldn’t want him to get too full of himself, so I’ll just leave it at very good. We can talk about that extra very when I get to my review of Night 4; and my recounting of how before joining The Disco Biscuits, Aron Magner briefly played as a session musician on Alanis Morissette’s third studio album Jagged Little Pill, true story![/box]
“Spacebirdmatingcall” saliently transitioned back into “Basis” for another round of jamming and jostling around on stage. “Basis” again was fantastic, with some fantastic interplay between Allen and Magner. They forayed this cohesion into the next composition, “Mulberry’s Dream.” Now, this is to say nothing about the quality of the music, because if it was unclear, this entire set was EXCELLENT, but this was my least favorite part of the set by far. For those of you unfamiliar with the song, it is an allegory about a shady gentleman who works the corners for money; many interpret this as an allusion to him being a drug dealer, but I, and many others, interpret this take to mean he is a male sex-worker. This sex-worker has issues with Coptotermes formosanus, more commonly known as termites. He only finds solace in the fact that one of his john’s, Mulberry’s dream’s of Pretty-Womanizing him. The quality of the playing throughout”Mulberry’s Dream” was enthralling, with particular credit continuing to go to Magner and his seemingly magic fingers. “Mulberry’s Dream” went once more back into “Basis.”
For those of you who have never seen a Disco Biscuits show, playing the same song multiple times during a set is not as logic might have it, a bad thing. In fact, it is usually a strong indicator of a number of good things happening onstage, both auditorily and charismatically. “Basis,” once again, transitioned back into the end of “Spacebirdmatingcall.” The end of”Spacebirdmatingcall” was well executed and the jams, noodling, fiddling, drumming and hammering going on onstage were all something to write home about. The end of “Spacebirdmatingcall” went wistfully into “Basis For a Day” for the last time. Overall, Set 2, was one of the better sets I have seen from The Disco Biscuits, out of the 140 or so I have witnessed in the past several years, so there is something to be said for that.
Lastly, what night would be complete without an encore? “I Remember When,” until the past few years, was a rarely played composition, which only made a return to the band’s regular rotation due to the incessant and unrelated insistence of a small number of fans (you know who you are). “I Remember When” is a slower melodic piece that tells the story of an every-town girl-next-door. A nostalgic number, it recounts the fond memories of years gone by, of hanging out with your friends, of a simpler life, of good times that seemed like they would never end, and of course, watching that girl-next-door naked by the pool. The encore was a rousing but appropriately claiming end to a wild and high-octane night of music. The perfect endnote to only the first-night of four nights of forgettable, but more importantly, some unforgettable music by The Disco Biscuits.
Stay tuned for my reviews of Nights 2, 3 and 4.
12/30/2015 • The Disco Biscuits • PlayStation Theater • New York, NY
Opening Act(s): Horizon Wireless
Notes: Fan-written setlists, by beef788 (1st Set) and Morph430 (2nd Set)
Set 1: Crickets> The Very Moon1> Crickets, Morph Dusseldorf2> Rock Candy2> Digital Buddha
Set 2: Basis For A Day> Spacebirdmatingcall> Basis For A Day> Mulberry’s Dream3> Basis For A Day>Spacebirdmatingcall> Basis For A Day
Encore: I Remember When
- Middle/end (funk) section only
- Inverted version