Set I: Confrontation > Little Lai (1), The Tunnel, Magellan, Above The Waves > Spectacle > Above The Waves
Set II: Voices Insane > House Dog Party Favor, SpaceBirdMatingCall, Ulua Mindless Dribble > Confrontation
“Encore: Barfly (2)
(1) completes 12/29 version
(2) with "Never Trust A Woman" (by Brent Mydland) vocals
Setlist Source: BIP
To a Southern outsider like myself, it became quickly apparent that a Disco Biscuits hometown crowd is its own mishmash blend of styles and subcultures. A night before New Year's Eve, Philadelphia's celebrated Electric Factory was transformed into a place where hip-hop/skateboarder clothing brands like Ecko and Mecca existed right alongside dreadlocks, Dead shirts, hemp necklaces and patchouli. More importantly, though, it became a place where rock & roll, hip hop and electronica were sonically fused into what bassist Marc Brownistein calls "trancefusion."
The foursome from Philly kicked the night off with an inverted version of “Confrontation” - reputedly the first inverted opener of Bisco's career. This aspect of the band's music is particularly fascinating to watch because, seeing them play live, it begins to dawn on you that these guys know their material both forwards and backwards. The only thing that even comes close to comparison is some of the work that the Beatles did back in the late sixties on their album Revolver with songs like "Tommorrow Never Knows," where they would track Lennon's guitar riffs backwards. Even then, though, the Beatles could only do this in the studio - these guys do it live.
From there, Bisco segued the jam into “Little Lai”, picking up the song at where the band had left off from the night before. This, in fact, seems to stand as another unique aspect of the Biscuits' music. Instead of repeating a song that it had already played the night before, the band often splices its jams up into segments and plays those segments intermittently throughout a run. It is an approach undoubtedly designed to keep things interesting for all of the rabid heads that follow the band from show to show.
The band then moved into “The Tunnel”, a high-octane song from its most recent album, Senor Boombox. While Brownstein and Gutwillig's lyrics sometimes betray a sing-song Phish influence on this jam, it nonetheless quickly built up to Bisco's signature level of intensity - halting only for a moment in the chorus when Brownstein would let loose an edgy, "...and if it's not my time can I come back?" During the jam's crescendo, Brownstein comically graced the audience with his best Pete Townshend impression as he thumped his bass in time between windmills.
The next two numbers were “Magellan” and “Above the Waves”, which flowed dynamically into a chill, synthed-out version of “Spectator” and quickly built back up into an energetic “Above the Waves” again to close out the set.
After a short intermission, Philly's finest dove into a high-energy second set that began with the airy guitar riffs of “Voices Insane”. As the jam gained in momentum, Brownstein's head began to bob violently in time to the rhythm as Gutwillg marched in place and Magner jumped up & down, mashing the keys in a manner that invoked impressions of a videogame soundtrack.
At this point, the jam began to morph into a segue that would become “House Dog Party Favor”. In particular, both Brownstein and drummer Sam Altman seemed to be completely on point during this part of the jam. Their driving rhythms laid the framework for a groove that built up to drive the audience into a total dance frenzy.
As Magner keyed up a disco-electro backbeat on the ivories, the dance frenzy on the floor culminated into a near-riot. Having played a only a supporting role in the jam up until this point, Gutwillg's guitar riffs exploded with a fusion of wailing rock and relentless electronica as he tickled the first notes of “SpaceBirdMatingCall” - an electro-funk dance number which was (arguably) the most impressive piece of the whole evening.
The next song, “Ulua”, was characterized by Brownstein's heavy bass lines and Magner's gospel-inspired keystrokes. Though the song was somewhat slower than the last number, the crowd seemed to respond energetically to the three-piece harmonized chants that colored the song's crescendo. An extended period of improvisation followed, with a focus on Gutwillg as he wailed on the guitar and on Magner as he tickled the "Bisco-Funk" on the keys.
At this point, the balcony beneath my feet began to pump violently as the crowd around me recognized the first chords of a perrenial favorite, “Mindless Dribble”. By the time Gutwillg joined the fray with an entourage of hard guitar riffs, the upper balcony seemed to be in danger of imminent collapse and I was forced to take refuge down on the floor. I reached the front part of the stage just in time to hear the band lazily noodle a tease of “Pygmy Twilight” for a moment before the jam turned direction again into another series of spacey improvisations.
This series of improvisations soon morphed into a linear version of “Confrontation”, bringing a sense of closure to the show even as Magner stood on his seat with one foot on his keyboard stack, pounding away at the ivories.
It did not take very long for Bisco's hometown crowd to coax the band back out onto the stage for the “Barfly” encore. A piece from the band's first album, Barfly was a slower blues-driven number characterized by Magner's gospel keys and soulful lyrics. Though the boisterous crowd tried to get the Biscuits back onstage for another encore after the song was over, it quickly became apparent that they would have to wait. It was more than obvious that the band was saving most of its fire for the next evening, when it would ring the New Year in with a few thousand of its closest friends.
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Atlanta native Edwin Childs currently works as a music/variety writer for UGA's The Red And Black in Athens, Georgia.