DAY TWO :: 08.27.05

Kevin Kinsella - John Brown's Body
Camp Bisco IV
No rest for the wicked - or at least little rest for a festivarian. Campless and drained, this roving reporter found respite in the reclined front seat of his car from around 11 am to about 2 pm. Talk about a power nap! In my blissful oblivion, I managed to sleep through Lynch, featuring moe.'s Jim Loughlin, and Burlington's hot new product Turkey Bouillon Mafia featuring Jennifer Hartswick.

First up on my agenda would be Ithaca's own John Brown's Body. The pioneers of American roots/dub reggae are a sure-shot festival draw guaranteed to get the crowd moving. Doubtless the most talented reggae band from the States, the octet constantly teeters on the brink of superstardom, touring and playing with not only legendary reggae bands, but also major jam and mainstream acts as well. Led by the brilliant vocals of rhythm guitarist Kevin Kinsella, JBB explores a personal and societal heightened awareness, all with a backdrop of stunning, horn-punctuated, progressive roots sound. And when the boys effortlessly drop the dub style, the hordes of dance kids at Camp Bisco got down especially hard.

With the mood properly set and the overcast skies making the late August afternoon air brisk, The Benevento/Russo Duo would get a massive reception on the second stage (or as Marc Brownstein would jokingly refer to them – The Ambiguously Gay Duo.) With Marco Benevento on organ and Joe Russo on drums, the terrifying twosome brought their highly original, mutated jazz-electronica-punk to the eager festival-goers.

The Duo :: Camp Bisco IV
Delivering a relatively small yet highly captivating repertoire of familiar tunes on a non-stop touring schedule, The Duo has catapulted rapidly into the jamband limelight. Grinding out the rhythmic trance foundation, Russo, formerly of Fat Mama, is a fan favorite. Benevento adds the signature soul, riding the swell of improv into the ocean of sonic waves.

A few standouts from their set included "Becky," which is part pre-programmed drum machine and the rest, human-driven synthetic electronica. Russo was at his best busting forth the tribal stomp and rolling thunderous heartbeat of "Sunny's Song." Additionally, Benevento contributed palpable tones and hues to the heavy electronica drumbeat of "Welcome Red."

Umphrey's McGee :: Camp Bisco IV
The early evening hours, and perhaps a major portion of the festival's acclaim, belonged to Chicago's windy city sons Umphrey's McGee. This Midwest six pack is truly a conglomeration of musical geniuses and authorities. Effortlessly and masterfully bending genres and concepts, these bastard children of the 80's are turning the jamband world on its head as they steadily ascend the ladder of success. The best part of it all was that Umph got to play two full sets at Camp Bisco IV, and they did so by providing a rollercoaster of emotions and styles with alarming proficiency and expertise.

"Sociable Jimmy" was a solid opener with Brendan Bayliss on the super slick vocals. The metal, borderline punk of "Plunger" would continue the segue. "Jazz Odyssey" was just that – a free form stylistic journey into the heart of creation. The first set highlight though would be a cover of the Talking Heads' "Making Flippy Floppy," with sick percussion highlights from Andy Farag and a fluid, trance-porting jam.

The conceptualized improv of "Jimmy Stewart" moved through a hip-hop and electronic jam until the scene's hottest guitarist, Jake Cinninger, played a sizzlin' game of follow the leader with Bayliss. The latter's "Bridgeless" would close Set I with the spirited, pensive lyrics:

Brendan Bayliss - UM :: Camp Bisco IV
Dialing in my prescription
Relying on old definitions
When all preconceptions are lifted
Growing is more for the gifted
It's never a word till it's spoken here
Meaning interpret it's still unclear
This cant be hard as choosing it
We're all better off than accusing

After the spacey haze of the second set intro cleared, "Nothing Too Fancy" ironically raged from electronica to "McMetal" to reggae, while Cinninger continued to blow our circuits with his searing string work. Over twenty-five minutes later, I was left scratching my head at the oxymoronic loose intensity and overwhelming tightness these boys bring to the table. It's hard to try to capture these cats in words, but what popped into my mind was that they have an amazing '80s catch with the hindsight of over two decades of evolution. The melodic landscapes continued on "Push the Pig" as piano man Joel Cummins did the West Coast hip-hop thing right, with the tweaky keys in the jam section. Later, Farag would meld with the stellar rhythm section of Kris Myers on drums and Ryan Stasik on bass for the outstanding metallic reggae of "Higgins."

Hallucinogen :: Camp Bisco IV
As if this wasn't enough, we still had two sets of Bisco coming, including "The Professor's" farewell, and some of the UK's most scintillating DJs in Hallucinogen, Eat Static, and Younger Brother (once again, well into the dawn). The Biscuits surprised everybody big time whipping out the first "Highwire" since November 2001. This tune is "The Big Happy" but with lyrics. The groove quickly built into a tight "I Remember When." Gutwillig would display his guitar wizardry on "Aceetobee," offering a highly danceable yet repetitive, stagnant flow.

Impressive though was the blistering pace of an inverted "Nughuffer." The sentimentality began oozing as the boys kinda stopped the song in the middle to explain that the tune is less about a pot pipe and more about losing something you love (in reference to Altman). The enlivened segue would dip back into "Aceetobee" and Sammy's "Onamae Wa" finished the set.

Jon Gutwillig :: Camp Bisco IV
"The Very Moon" would kick off Set II, marking the celestial event of the moon being as close to the earth as it has been in centuries. The funk portion of the jam would have us dancing amongst the planets with Magner playing a phat synthesized organ. Notable too were Sammy and Brownie keeping tight and on point rhythm, while leaving plenty of room for Gutwillig to explore.

The slick techno number "Caterpillar" was a clear sign of this band's capabilities. Yet at the same time, I couldn't help but think that the sound was nearly identical to the 1980s Eurotrash, a la Depeche Mode... but this time for tweaked-out hippies. The dub jam out of "Above the Waves" proved that Sammy is a badass drummer while Magner added the reverberating keys. Altman's "Floes" would make a late second set appearance as the band and crowd would rage with a "SAMMY" cheer after the tune. A song specially crafted for the occasion would seal the deal, as "To You Sammy" sent the drummer on his way to a higher education. By this point, the melancholy had become tangible yet the mood remained triumphant.

Sam Altman :: Camp Bisco IV
Camp Bisco IV was truly an end of an era for the trance/rocktronica juggernaut. Though rumors are floating about who will take Altman's place, The Biscuits noted their desire to continue to play and grow, keeping an open invitation for "The Doctor" to come back and join his brethren behind the kit. In the end, the gathering of freaks was a spectacle of major sonic exploration, and it was also about the positive creation that can pour forth from the union of like-minded souls. Through their music, The Disco Biscuits urged everyone to explore, to be daring, and to dance on the edge and transform into beings of higher consciousness.

Appropriately, The Biscuits closed the live portion of The Tranceformation with "Spectacle." The encore would display the crew's strongest lyrical offering of the weekend and would send the dancing kids to that ever-so-close but yet so far moon:

Asleep in the day, awake in the night,
Only so many roads to take your life.
The problem you see,
You can't mess with time
And take a different road you'd try.

Isn't life just a spectacle?
One hand short of a miracle.
And if you're butterflies through the wind...
And you don't think you want back in again...

JamBase | Bisco
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[Published on: 9/16/05]

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