The Disco Biscuits: Jon “The Barber” Gutwillig – Guitar and Vocals
Marc Brownstein – Bass and Vocals
Aron Magner – Keyboards and Vocals
Sam Altman – Drums

On December 27, 2001, The Disco Biscuits played to a sold out Recher Theatre in Towson, Maryland. This show was the first of a five-night New Years run. After a long wait in the venue for the band to take the stage, they finally came on at about 9:30. The crowd erupted, the anticipation was over, the New Years run was here. Without saying a word, the band broke into a rocking version of “Vassillios.”

Everything was going smoothly, the band was finding their groove and then, darkness - the power had gone out in the Recher Theatre! There were many confused faces, but as experienced musicians know, these things happen and Sam Altman kept a pulsating beat on the drums. The band kicked back into "Vassillios" when the power came back on about 20 seconds later. It took a couple of seconds, but the crowd eventually got right back into it and we were all back on course. The jamming in “Vassillios” was very choppy, but in a good way. It was not as danceable as other Disco Biscuits moments, but musically it was right on par with the rest of their repertoire.

And then the unthinkable. It happened again: no sound coming from the stage except for the drums. Once again, Altman kept the beat and the band joined back in and raged a for a few more minutes of “Vassillios” and right into a seamless transition into “I-Man.” “I-Man” was where the band really found their groove. There was some techno jamming, especially in the outro jam, and everyone in the venue was dancing his or her tails off. Next was “Morph Dusseldorf,” which to me always seems like it is a difficult song to play, and the band is forcing it out of themselves. This night’s version was different with a nice bouncy jam to come out of it. The ending of “Morph” itself is worth traveling far distances for.

“Frog Legs” was next which is a short, happy tune that is quite different from the music that The Disco Biscuits are used to playing. For some reason this song reminds me of the scene in The Three Amigos where they all walk into the bar in Mexico for the first time, it seems like “Frog Legs” could be playing in the background and it would fit. But that’s just me. After “Frog Legs,” Altman started the familiar drumbeat of “Mindless Dribble” and sure enough the band jumped right in after him. This version will stand out because of how far down the Biscuits brought it. The jam was so soft and smooth that I was wondering how they could possibly bring it back up to the intensity that is the end of “Dribble.” After this smooth, soft jam that still had Bisco written all over it, they segued into “Hot Air Balloon” which is always welcome. The structured song part of “Hot Air Balloon” led right back into “Mindless Dribble” and it looked like we were in for a huge “Dribble”>”Hot Air Balloon” double decker sandwich.

Then, when the band was reaching the peak of the most intense jam of the night, the power went out again! Noticeably frustrated, the band fiddled around with their instruments waiting for the power to come back on, and then Jon Gutwillig (guitar) tried to ease the situation by talking to the audience and informed us that the band was going to try to finish the song. They did and with power. They jumped right back into the end of “Mindless Dribble” which segued yet again with “Hot Air Balloon,” finishing out the first set.

The first set clocked in at over an hour and a half, and even with the power outages, the set was great. The set could have been spectacular and flawless, if not for the unbelievable three losses of power. The band showed a great deal of maturity by finishing the first set, even after the disaster of the crescendo ruining third power outage. The band was obviously very upset with the situation but they handled it like true professionals. They finished the set, found the root of the problem at set break and came out for a second set with a little announcement.

The band informed us that the reason that the power was going out was the immense amount of smoke that was coming from the audience. The smoke alarms were going off, and the power was switching to back up. They asked us to think about it before we smoked anything. Jon made it clear that he was not forbidding us to smoke, just that we should think about it before we did. The point was well taken, and the crowd obliged.

The second set started off with “Barfly,” a slow, bluesy tune that most fans do not appreciate due to the lack of trance-fusion. This version lived up to the previous versions I have seen. It contains some of the finest back and forth jamming between Brownstein and Gutwillig in The Disco Biscuits catalog. They would react to each other’s previous lick with a more dramatic lick of their own, until it climaxed back into the end of the song. After Barfly, the band jumped right into a song that is as hard as Barfly is soft, “Floodlights.” The pounding intro and the actual rapping from bassist Marc Brownstein is enough to make this song one of my favorites to see live. The jam out of "Floodlights" was what I have come to expect from The Disco Biscuits. It was a raging, techno-trance-fusion jam that segued beautifully into the highlight of the evening, "Basis for a Day." The whole song is basically a jam with a few composed parts and hollers of “hooooooo--hey” from they band at different points of the song. This song blew my mind, and many others around me.

The jam out of "Basis" was something that did not sound like it was being played by humans at all, let alone just four of them. This is what it is all about, the band managed to sound like one driving force rather than four different instruments. It all meshed into one complete sound. If there were ever a movie based on underwater aliens, they should use the jam out of this particular “Basis” as their theme. The song seemed to melt away and end so gracefully, as it should have. To finish out the stellar second set was “Little Simmy in a Conga Line.” This version lived up to the rest of the show and featured some great trance jamming.

The band left the stage, and the crowd did not stop cheering until the band came back, which is a sign of a wonderful show. The received a request for “Radiator,” started to play that song, and aborted it as they segued into the beginning of “Spectacle.” This is a newer song that has not been getting a lot of credit amongst the hard-core fans for its easy to swallow structure, but I think it’s a perfect encore. It fits well as an encore, especially after a stellar show like the one that we were all lucky to witness on this night. The lyrics “Isn’t life just a spectacle? One hand short of a miracle” should bring a smile to anyone’s face, especially if they just witnessed a Disco Biscuits concert.

Dan Berkowitz

[Published on: 1/2/02]

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