New Years Eve is always a special event. It’s a time of year notorious for creating music of a new level, like a looking glass into the future. Regardless of your religious denomination, chances are you operate on a twelve-month calendar with the grander portion of society making this eve a largely communal event. A tiny oasis in the midst of winter, New Years is a refreshing holiday for music fanatics. The greater population of our country most likely spends their energy getting intoxicated in anticipation of watching a large monotone ball drop on television, envious of the 100,000 individuals lucky enough to be jammed into Times Square in a fashion that went out of style at British soccer matches in the late 80’s. Those with the forethought to come to a certain realization about music ahead of time were most likely part of a multi-day journey to that inverted moment in time where one year ends and another begins. I was lucky enough to be with The Disco Biscuits during their adventure into the dimension of time that is New Years Eve.
New Year's Eve | Photo by Matt Butler
I jumped on the Bisco bandwagon in New York, three days into their NYE Run with three days left to spare. After checking setlists from the previous nights I was somewhat disheartened by the fact that they had already played a number of songs I was looking forward to hearing. The second the Biscuits took the stage, however, I sublimated that notion entirely as they reminded me of two things: First of all, they have a playlist that reads like a short novel. Secondly, it doesn’t matter what they play, it’s how they play it. It’s the fact that they pour their hearts into every moment of improvisation creating segues and musical spaces that are blissfully unique. They capture you in the moment demanding their undivided attention. They somehow manage to get better every night while playing shows of an entirely different nature; like night and day. This couldn’t have been truer for the three shows that I saw, all of which were enormously splendid in their own distinctive way.
The night of the Roseland Ballroom show attracted an interestingly eclectic crowd ala New York. Undoubtedly one of the greatest cities on earth, the Biscuits took a huge bite out of the Big Apple with their razor-sharp trancefusion. The band was playing on a new level than the last time I was able to see them. Even above and beyond any expectations associated with New Years. The "Spacebirdmatingcall" from the first set is a perfect example. It’s a song that gets better every time it endures the live medium, yet on this occasion it improved exponentially. The set was closed with an immensely energetic "Run Like Hell" that had me jumping higher than I’ve ever dared leap. Who said white men can’t jump? Not Woody Harrelson.
Riding on the plateau established in the first set the Biscuits peaked the second set during a glorious "Crickets>Inverted Shelby Rose>Crickets" that went anywhere and everywhere. It was the quintessential case and point of how the Biscuits are able to arrange their setlists to take on an artistic form where the music produced exceeds any connotations of how it looks on paper. It was continuously intense trance-grooves that endlessly morphed until a magnificent rocked out jam plowed in and out, or out and in of "Shelby Rose." The second encore of "Bernstein and Chasnoff" was a melodic display of keyboardist Aron Magners’ capacity to produce an infinite array of futuristic-sounding layers and fold them over each other repeatedly leading the band through severe techno-jams.
The Biscuits moved on to Philadelphia the next night to set up base camp for the last two shows of 2001. The Electric Factory was packed beyond the point of comfort. I often found myself at a stalemate while attempting to navigate the crowd in which both feet were stuck together and the only place I was going if I didn’t use force was the ground. Once I finally found some solid real estate that I would call my home for the next two nights I buckled up for round two. It was unfortunately one of those sets where I metaphorically got to the other end of the parking lot and kicked myself for wearing a seatbelt. "Pilin’ it High" was a raging opener but from then on it just seemed as though they were just playing without luster, coming across as discombobulated. They played some huge songs just not huge versions. There was some nice jamming in the midst of "Sound One>Floes>Shem-Ra Boo>Magellan" that got had some intense peaks and the "Magellan" reprise section is always a beautiful way to end a set.
The quality of music skyrocketed the second the second set left the ground. The beats that Sam Altman was pounding out were inhumanly quick with skull-spinning complexity. This set created some amazing jams along the theme of repeated stop-start trance breakdowns. The highlight of the set came somewhere in the middle with "Pygmy Twylyte>Dance of the Sugarplum Fairies>Pygmy Twylyte" which was full of holiday cheer coated in a layer of Bisco Dub. Bassist Marc Brownstein was laying down some dense and richly smooth bass grooves, tooling with an ongoing tease of "Crickets." The set ended with some banter about the holidays and family and how great it was for the Biscuits to be back on their own stomping grounds in Philly at which point they played a passionate rendition of "Home Again," a song that always instills a sense of nostalgia and homeliness.
And now the night we’ve all been waiting for. The culmination of their five-day run. The culmination of the year. And culminate they did. It seemed as though they harnessed everything they had learned in the last year and snowballed together blowing it into a three-set blizzard of intense music. The storm blanketed the past rearing the head of Bisco 2002. The band was dressed accordingly in all white with the stage draped in a similar manner. In the first set they played a phenomenal cover of "Three Days" with an equally mind-bending guitar solo by Jon Gutwillig. I’ll admit the song also had a sense of symbolic appeal to my three-day run.
The second set, carrying us into 2002, was even grander than I had imagined. For the New Year's countdown they did a mind-blowing medley of scores to various movie themes, segueing "Star Wars>Indiana Jones>Superman." The music was accompanied by what can only be categorized as a drunken skit, staging battles between various villains and superheroes from the fore mentioned movies. While the acting was a huge letdown to the audio/visual extravaganza that had been billed it did have comical value. The magic of the Biscuits’ recreation of the three movie themes was more than enough compensation. Not to mention a ridiculous light show. In honor of what is now a New Years tradition we got a powerful "Helicopters." “Happy New Year! Look Out Below!”
Next in store was set III, the first entire set played by the Biscuits in the year 2002. They took it up yet another notch and played an intense, almost non-stop set. The set had an gloriously suspenseful, drawn-out jam back into the "Mindless Dribble" they had began in the first set which then jammed into an amazing, inverted "Confrontation." The highlight of the set, if not the night, or even the entire run, was the rendition of "Save the Robots," a tune that had been in the Bisco tool shed since the spring. What came out was a souped up reworking of a killer song that has a next-level, melodically complex sound to it. A standard was set for the Biscuits in the future. Another newer song was brought out to initiate the end of the set as the Biscuits segued "Sister Judy’s Soul Shack" into the dramatic, climactic ending section of "Basis for a Day."
Max Dawson was brought up for the encore to pay homage to his devoted efforts in digitally distributing The Disco Biscuits live archives through his project Plan C. Being bid farewell on his studious ventures to Australia he was rewarded with the privilege of selecting the encore. After some indecisiveness they busted out a Dub "Aquatic Ape" as we all know how much Max likes his Dub. The version was ridiculously tight, a perfect ending to the night, and came to a scorching, abrupt halt. They raged solidly and ended as though they had hit a brick wall at fifty miles per hour leaving me with the classic “what the hell just happened?” sensation.
Just like that. Three days gone by. A year gone by and only a trail of smoking nostalgic debris left in its wake. With a new year born, everyone headed in his or her separate directions with a clean slate and hopefully fond memories of how they spent the ending moments of 2001. The last year was truly an odyssey for the Jamband scene, genre, and community. Alongside a diverse variety of established of alien genres being embraced into the community, a number of newer acts have reared their musical voices stretching the threshold of music, as we know it. Without going too far out on a limb, I would say that The Disco Biscuits have the most innovative, exploratory and tight sound out of any act that is currently playing. Their trance-fusion is basically the natural progression of most any imaginable type of music, meshed into a chaotic snowball that is Bisco. They have improved drastically in the past year, even the last month leaving me anxious to hear what is in store for 2002. So until next time “The age old saying is right. It’s not the pile, it’s pilin’ it high…you’re not done when there’s another ride.” Happy New Year!
JamBase Boulder Correspondent - on location
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