The Disco Biscuits | 12.31 | New York

Words by: Jesse Borrell | Images by Jesse Borrell & Robert Chapman

The Disco Biscuits :: 12.31.08 :: Nokia Theatre :: New York, NY

The Disco Biscuits :: 12.31 by Chapman
Another year had ended, but still its remnants were visible as a breeze lightly pushed rubbish throughout the streets of a barren Times Square. Surrounded by negative temperatures and entrenched within the soul of NYC, people of all shapes and colors gathered above ground like penguins just hours earlier in celebration. If one pressed their ear to the concrete, an energetic rumbling could still be felt coming from a hollowed-out space below as the music of The Disco Biscuits played on well into the morning.

Traveling from the pubescence at Rothbury to the beaches of Jamaica, from the dirty, dirty at Starland to the haze of the Melkweg, 2008 was a different sort of year for The Disco Biscuits. Playing 58 shows overall, an eclectic touring schedule totaled one of their lowest numbers in recent history. Yet in classic Bisco fashion, the fans were given just enough of a taste throughout the past year to get our fix. Ending the year with a blowout five-night run at NYC's Nokia Theatre, the quartet hit 2009 running with their sights set further down the line.

Anticipation is rising and details are decisively sparse when referring to the release of TDB's upcoming studio album, their first since 2002's SeƱor Boombox. "It's done!" proclaims bassist Marc Brownstein, lounging comfortably backstage on the eve of their second performance at Nokia. "We had eight songs ready to go about a month ago, and we've now settled on 15 songs that we want to put on the album."

The Disco Biscuits :: 12.31 by Borrell
"It's cool. The new album looks a little bit into the future, a little bit into the past and then it has a whole mess of the right now," continued Brownstein. "It's going to be a really cool album." Though batches of new material were unveiled throughout the month of December, no tracks off the new album have been played live. "We are so excited. We want to release it today. We want to release it and play all of these new songs, because it has been such a long time that we have been working on it."

At 9:33 p.m., TDB arrived onstage and went straight into the opening licks of an instantaneous party inducing "7-11." Guitarist Jon Gutwillig thrashed back and forth, coiling his first solo with a large smile. As the song progressed, drummer Allen Aucoin took control of the tempo as if telegraphing a change in parallel with Brownstein's slowing basslines. Hints of a "Cyclone" reprise fluttered past. Various themes could be deciphered but "Rock Candy" emerged from the fog and took shape as rogue spotlights scanned the crowd.

After going through the structural motions of "Rock Candy," the boys collapsed upon a relatively fast and filthy pocket of musical play. It was as if Aucoin's cavernous kicks were imitating the dynamics of quicksand, and it's deep, deep within these moments that we have come to expect at the apex of TDB. Eventually the theme mellowed and we were sucked towards a light, jazzy version of "Vassilios." A funk heavy version of "Trucker's Choice" had the crowd singing the chorus at the top of their lungs.

Aron Magner :: 12.31 by Borrell
Perhaps by way of computer error, Aucoin's opening electronic drumbeats offered a faster cut of "Caterpillar" right out of the gate. As the song progressed, it was Gutwillig's energetic, rotational solos that tightened the ideas surrounding the improv. Darker, crunchy textures off Aron Magner's synth continued to suck air from an ever-tightening room as a wall of sound built great strength only to ultimately collapse.

"Here we are at Nokia, in Times Square, New York City. If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. It's in the song!" declared Brownstein enthusiastically. Decked out with comfortable seating areas, no poor lines of sight and a plethora of cute waitresses with expensive drinks at our disposable, the Nokia Theatre was a great venue to host the NYE run. Every night it was as if each of us owned a very small, yet gracious portion of the joint. The scene was alive. "When they presented us with the opportunity, I had mixed emotions," admitted Brownstein. "We've never done more than three nights anywhere, and I had my reservations about whether that many people would want to come to the same venue five nights in a row."

For those resilient enough to experience all five nights, the multi-faceted musical styles of Bisco were in full effect. "I got out there [last night] and I looked out and saw that back row packed and I was blown away. First of five! This is definitely the biggest week of our career for us" smiled Brownstein.

Marc Brownstein :: 12.31 by Chapman
When asked about the most significant moment of 2008, Brownstein's answer not only caught me by surprise, but it inadvertently realigned my train of thought to the many tasks at hand in 2009.

"Probably the best moment of 2008 was Election Day. How can there be any better day?" asked Brownstein rhetorically. "The truth of the matter is that the jam band community consists of good, hard working people. These are passionate people. People who are moved by music are moved by everything and can tap into that 'greater thing' out there, and [that passion] needs to go through all of the different scenes. We all need to take action. And that's why Obama got elected, because in the end it was every community that came together."

The answer should not have surprised me coming from the Co-Chairman of HeadCount - the preeminent voter registration drive in the music world today. Leading up to last year's election, HeadCount officially registered over 105,000 individuals. Journeying back towards the wide dance floors, I tried to imagine the plights of those around me. There is something very special and symbolic that happens with the passing of a year. Although an alteration of consciousness needs no calendar for significance, it sometimes takes the symbolic gesture to fine-tune one's being. And while there is a distinct relationship between the private politics of an individual versus a public persona, the two are kept separate in the realm of The Disco Biscuits.

The Disco Biscuits :: 12.31 by Chapman
"We like to keep the world of The Disco Biscuits as escapism, a fantasy. The world out there is fucked up and what we do is entertain people. We're not out there trying to preach, we're not trying to tell people how we feel," said Brownstein. "All we're trying to do is put on a show and get people out of their world and into ours for a couple of hours. That's what The Disco Biscuits are about."

The Biscuits debuted "Uber Glue" just weeks earlier, at their annual Caribbean Hollidaze festival in Jamaica (click here for pictures). "Uber Glue," with no coherent guess towards the meaning of the song's title, is a triumphant little number featuring soaring guitar riffs and secret agent keyboard work. Although both tracks were performed on the previous Saturday, hearing "Uber Glue" > "Tamarin Alley" a second time allowed many to familiarize themselves with these new tracks. While "Uber Glue" sounds somewhat premature in terms of actual content, "Tamarin Alley" contains many lively aspects that we've come to expect from this band. Seemingly lunging from side to side during its plight towards takeoff, the organism of "Tamarin Alley" has a monster hidden within.

"We introduced [Tamarin Alley] as Conspirator because Allen was going to be at the show and we felt it was a good chance for the three of us to get comfortable with the song, which is being played in a new arrangement and a new way from how we normally play our music" Brownstein explained. "It worked very well [with Conspirator], but the song is so much better as a Biscuits song. It's so much bigger. With Jon's guitar it just sings."

The Disco Biscuits :: 12.31 by Chapman
In between vocals, Brownstein manically jumped around the stage trying to keep pace with the energy inside the stanzas and any attempts at keeping up with Aucoin's pummels became futile. Once the audience becomes more accustomed with the cut in the future, "Tamarin Alley" is sure to be a showstopper. Throughout a classical rendition of "Spaga," TDB varied their attack as styles ranged from mellow reggae dub to compelling psychedelic rock.

Closing in on the end of 2008, the Biscuits rested in the familiar pockets of "Astronaut." After fittingly suspending and floating in the air as it has many times before, somewhere during "Astronaut" the clock struck twelve. Balloons and confetti fell from above and the crowd continued to rage, singing aloud to the ad-libbed NYE-specific lyrics of "Helicopters." The mood turned less serious as the art of dancing became intertwined with hugs, kisses and popping of fallen balloons. Built up feelings of unnerving anticipation were released and the music finally reached a high Bisco plateau. With the sequential advancement of controlled guitar riffs, the heart and soul of the Biscuits were upon us. Feet all across the floors leapt in celebration alongside progressions of pure, cyclical rage.

Unexpectedly switching into "Air Song," the mood became subtler. While the version may have not been its most provocative incarnation, the "Air" infused voyage coming back into "Helicopters" gave the crowd more of what they were looking for. Just like that, another year had past in tandem with a fury of fists in the air. TDB ended the set playing mischievously with fire.

The Disco Biscuits :: 12.31 by Chapman
"I thought we would be where we are today two years ago, but with ten years behind us with [Sam Altman] the telepathy doesn't come over night," explained Brownstein. "Now, we've been together over four years with Allen and things are clicking, and I think that's what happened in 2008. This was the year where the band with Allen stopped being the band and Allen, and started being The Disco Biscuits."

When asked about a possible future Altman/Aucoin dual drummer scenario a la The Grateful Dead, Brownstein laughed, "That would be pretty cool. Maybe one night we will make that happen. I think the good thing about Sammy's situation is that he's in the best place he has ever been in, and we're in the best place we've ever been in. We split amicably. The doors are always open for those kinds of things."

Nestled deep behind a plethora of drums and electronics, the humble Aucoin always seems poised and ready to go at a moment's notice. Hopefully in the coming year his artistic fingerprint will become increasingly distinct as he tightens the rhythmic reigns of TDB.

"To be onstage after more than a decade, and to continually have your mind blown by the people around you in your own band is a crazy thing. If it wasn't happening it would get stagnant," Brownstein said. "The name of the game is to keep it exciting and interesting for us. If we can do that other people will follow."

Jon Gutwillig :: 12.31 by Borrell
The Biscuits were almost taking a chance with their often-temperamental fan base by choosing newer material to dominate Set Three. "Meditation" is a vibrant track, filled with a wide palette of textures that will fit nicely in setlists of the future. The multi-layered sounds within the tentatively titled "Autumn Breathe" are very reminiscent of fellow electronica brethren STS9, yet still clearly Bisco, full of purposeful keyboards and a bassline infused with hypnotic drumbeats and recurring guitar riffs. Perhaps veiled within these tight pockets are hints of continued expansion for The Disco Biscuits.

"It's like one whole thing has evolved and it's changing, which is really cool. And then it's going to change again really soon," Brownstein explained, referring to their upcoming album. "We're changing it up right now a little bit with all of our new songs. Then, when our next new batch of songs come out, they're going to be all different again."

The once smiling faces of the band turned serious as a flow developed before us, imitating countless victory-laden improvisations of the past. The mood became almost reflective as the band headed toward a subtle release. Hints of drum and bass mingled with touches of progressive rock as "High Speed Racer" transformed the theatre into a Middle Eastern bazaar. Hearing the thematic range of the previous three tracks only further mystifies what the new album will present.

Matisyahu & Brownstein :: 12.31 by Chapman
"The album is kind of three different styles of music, with five songs of each style," Brownstein asserted. "Five of them are produced by Simon [Posford] and Benji [Vaughan] of Younger Brother. Five of them are produced and co-written by Don Cheegro and Dirty Harry, the hip-hop duo in Philly. And another five are straight rock & roll songs, harkening back to the old days of the Biscuits."

Responding with applause, the audience immediately recognized the opening notes of "Magellan." The well-arranged epic mellowed the atmosphere, but before "Magellan" even had a chance to get off the ground, a guest was brought onstage and the course changed directions. Enter Matisyahu from stage right.

Granted, I am a fan of Matisyahu. I think his unique form of freestyle rapping and out-of-the-ordinary vocal melodies blend well with the brooding tendencies of the Biscuits. This night's attempt to infuse an ad-libbed reggae jam within the confines of a "Magellan" was a daring one, but it never gained true cohesiveness. Furthermore, the decision to end Set Three with another new instrumental track, "M80," is sure to be discussed and debated for a short while. The flipside of having such a devoted fan base is each decision made opens the opportunity for scrutiny. Ending with a "Nughuffer" encore, Brownstein comically described a stoner adventure featuring The Jonas Brothers, Ludacris and President Bill Clinton to end the show on a lighter note.

Matisyahu w/ The Disco Biscuits :: 12.31 by Chapman
As we spilled onto the streets of New York City just after 3 a.m., all should have felt grateful for the generous amount of music experienced. The opportunity to hang out with new and old friends, as some of our favorite musicians aimed for ascension, is what life is all about. While not the most polished performance, this New Year's Eve show contained all of the elements we have come to love about The Disco Biscuits. It always amazes me how this band continues to perform with both spontaneity and a humbling sense of humor night after night without showing evidence of burning out.

The implementation of new material during this Nokia run proves that there is still much up Bisco's sleeve. All remaining uncertainties revolving around their new album are sure to be laid to rest during a massive '09 touring schedule that has its sights set both on eclipsing last year's touring total and reaching the Pacific Ocean by early spring.

"Our album is clipped down. The shit is grown and clipped, but it's got to cure," Brownstein declared. "And if we don't spend the time curing it properly, you're going to get it and it's not going to smell right. So, the album is in this curing process right now, and it's going to come out crispy and perfect."

The Disco Biscuits :: 12.31.08 :: Nokia Theatre :: New York, NY
Set I: 7-11 > Rock Candy > Vassilios > Trucker's Choice, Caterpillar
Set II: Uber Glue > Tamarin Alley, Spaga > Astronaut > Helicopters > Air Song > Helicopters
Set III: Meditation > Autumn Breathes, High Speed Racer, Magellan > Jam* > Magellan, M80
Encore: Nughuffer#
* w/ Matisyahu
# w/ Ned Scott of The Egg

The Disco Biscuits at Nokia Theater New Years Eve Run 2008

Continue reading for more pics of The Disco Biscuits on NYE...

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