FROM DC TO AC: TWO NIGHTS WITH THE BISCUITS

Photos taken by Adam Gulledge at the Georgia Theater (10.19.02)

Alright, here's a disclaimer: I like this band a lot. I sincerely think that The Disco Biscuits are the best live band currently on the road. They've gotten continually better since I first saw them in the summer of '98. Don't get me wrong- I can be unbiased when I have to. But, after seeing these two shows (Friday October 24 at the Nation in Washington, DC and Saturday at The Trump Marina casino in Atlantic City, NJ), there's really not a lot of criticism that comes to mind.

First, a little bit about the band. For any of you that haven't yet been exposed to the band's music, I will say that it's not for everyone and their shows are not for the faint of heart. In concert, the "songs" last for an average of 15 minutes and the band rarely takes breaks between them. Also, if you're the type of fan who enjoys a lot of singing, stick with the Dave Matthews Band. These guys are all about music and plenty of it. It's a band built around electronic-based grooves and jams. Sam Altman lays down machine-line precision beats and Marc Brownstein fills out the rhythm section with heavy, melodic basslines. Jon "Barber" Gutwillig plays his guitar in a way that's downright virtuosic. And, lastly, there's Aron Magner who really makes the band's sound with his arsenal of keyboards played masterfully and intelligently.

Over the course of the five or so years that the band has been together, they have amassed an amazingly good repertoire of material. Not only are the songs very eclectic in musical style, they're also full of some of the best melodies and most beautiful chord structures I've heard in any band- and that's saying a lot. Gutwillig is the most prolific of the band members and has a knack for writing clever, evocative songs. While these songs represent most of the band's most well-known material, I find myself drawn to the many of the songs that were penned by Brownstein while involved with two of his side projects (Electron and the Maui Project) in 2000. These unpretentious songs, such as "Kamaole Sands" and "Shelby Rose" are the type of uplifting, dance-friendly songs that keep attracting new fans- drawing them from their musical comfort zones to a type of music that they've never heard before because no one's ever played anything like it before. That's because The Disco Biscuits have really created their own sound in a way that only bands like the Dead and Phish have been able to do. (Coincidentally, Phil Lesh has invited the Biscuits to open up for Phil and Friends several times over the last couple of years.) They are creating their own success, playing music their way while making the rules up as they go along. Time to talk about the shows...

There was a real electricity in the Nation. The place was near capacity and everyone was in good spirits (including the security). This venue has been recently remodeled and is a lot nicer place to see music than the dark, unfriendly warehouse I remembered it to be. It helped that the band had decorated the place with colored balloons and banners. The band has also spared no expense when it comes to the lights. Using some of the most expensive digital lighting that money can buy, the band is keenly aware that the light show is an integral part of the fans' experience. Of course, they also did not forget to place a huge disco ball smack in the center of the ceiling.

The first set kicked off with a lively "Jigsaw Earth." This song's definitely a crowd-pleaser with its hyper-kinetic melodies and dub rhythms. After a mesmerizing jam, the band lit into a mean version of "Reactor." They then brought things down a bit with "Haleakala Crater," a rarely played, yet beautiful number. Although this song is normally mellow, it morphed into a raucous jam. Next, the band kicked things back up with "Sister Judy's Soul Shack." This is a great song that the band clearly loves to play. In fact, all band members were smiling ear-to-ear for this one. With its bright and bouncy groove, this is the type of song that just puts a positive spin on things. After a long, pregnant jam, "I-Man" was next. With the line "I've got my gun in my hand," this song was undoubtedly brought out by the band as a tongue-in-cheek nod to the Sniper's capture. After a scorching "Sister Judy's" reprise, the band gave a dark version of "Floodlights" and a standard delivery of "Bernstein and Chasnoff." After a brief "Basis" tease, they closed out the well-played set with the ending of "Jigsaw."

The second set started on an energetic kick with the jubilant "Story of the World." With a great transition, the band led into the heavier "And the Ladies Were the Rest of the Night." By this point, everyone knew that they were in for some full-on "Bisco crack" in the second set. "Confrontation" was the next tune chosen by the band - and a great choice it was. This song is one of their best, yet also one of the most accessible songs that the band plays. For the life of me, I don't know why they left it off their latest CD, Senor Boombox, a great album that could've been even better with its inclusion. After playing "Digital Buddha," an unremarkable cut from the new album, the band launched back into the climatic ending of "Confrontation." The beautiful yet somber "Hope" was next. Then, just when I thought the set had reached its high point, I recognized the unmistakable beat of "Munchkin Invasion." This is the type of song that can only come from the twisted minds of the Biscuits, and this version was one of those moments we go see live shows for. After finishing the set with a reprise of the "Story of the World," the set ended as if a locomotive had screeched to a halt. The encore of "Chemical Warfare Brigade," was a bit of a letdown considering how upbeat the second set had been. But, the band was surely a little beat at this point.

Onto Atlantic City… Upon arriving, I took a walk around to check out the scene. Surprisingly, most of the fans kept a low profile in the hours leading up to showtime. Presumably, they were content to keep the parties in the rooms for the time being. I got a kick out of hearing the casino dealers and the elderly patrons trying to figure out what exactly Disco Biscuits were. After losing a sizable chunk of change at the roulette table, I was ready for some music.

The show was a special production planned for weeks by the band. They came out with the novel idea of letting the fans pick the setlist for the show by spinning some custom-made wheels, outfitted with the names of songs. The fans had entered a raffle ahead of time to get the privilege of taking a spin. To make things even more interesting, the spinning took place while the band was playing onstage!

The band took the stage to a packed house full of hyped-up freaks ready to throw down. All of the band members were dressed in black tie, looking like some perverted wedding band. Many of the fans got in on the act and dressed in black tie or pimped-out 70s outfits. This was clearly the show that the tour had been building up to and everyone in attendance knew it. Hell, even some of the band members' parents were there to witness this spectacle.

Appropriately, the first spin was "House Dog Party Favor." This version was tight, crisp, and funky. Several minutes into the song, every band member had a silly grin on his face and all were clearly pleased with what they had pulled off by throwing this party. Next came a flawlessly played inverted version of "Above the Waves." After such a raging version of "Waves," the next spin fell on the beautiful "Home Again"- a song normally played as a set closer. It's amazing to me that a song with only two lines of lyrics can evoke so much emotion. Next, the band returned to "Digital Buddha" with a muscular version that was much better than the version played the previous night. Fortunately, the next spin landed on "Shelby Rose" and the band responded with a stellar version of this feel-good tune, complete with a nice dub jam.

After a lengthy set break, the festivities got back under way with "King of the World," an almost pop-sounding tune that is alternatively titled "Float Like a Butterfly" on the Senor Boombox disc. The next spin brought a new song called "Kitchen Mitts." The performance of this mellow, soulful ballad made me wonder how the band keeps cranking out such powerful songs. They dramatically switched gears when the next spin landed on "Nughuffer." This was a scorching inverted version of the autobiographical crowd favorite. Next, the band chose to play a comical tune called "Marvelous." This can only be described as a lounge reggae paean to women. After this comic relief, the band got back into full gear when someone spun "Save the Robots." This rare science fiction rocker was played in a way that can best be described as hypnotic. Next, someone spun "Jamillia." My friend described this as a song from the band's more immature days. I agree, but this song still brings a smile to the face. Fittingly, the encore spin landed on "Crickets." This ambient favorite began with its trademark mellow groove, and then transitioned into a rollicking ending that really exemplified what the Biscuits' music is all about.

People followed up the show with all-night gambling or simply by loitering in the enormous casino lobby. It took me until 6:00am to win my money back at the roulette table. What a night!

The band's currently on the tail end of its CD release Fall Tour. After that they play NYC on 12/29 and round out the year with two New Year's shows at the Electric Factory in the band's hometown of Philly. These guys have really hit their stride, so do yourself a favor and check them out. Don't forget your dancin' shoes though.

Brent Fraim
JamBase | Washington, DC
Go See Live Music!

http://www.discobiscuits.com

[Published on: 11/6/02]

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