Words and Images by Jake Krolick
The Disco Biscuits :: 12.29.05 :: Tower Theater :: Upper Darby, PA
He felt like he was floating. His arms, legs, and torso - hell, his whole body was lifting off the stage and away from his drum kit. The rhythm pulsed through his body with short, punchy bursts like blood spurting from a severed artery. It was dusk now, and as he played, he heard the heavy rumble and commotion of a crowd on the move. The sound seemed to come from every direction — from the dense green and blue lights on either side of him, from high above in the balcony, and vibrating beneath the smooth black stage. Choking smoke hung in the air. He played faster and faster, his arms and legs pumping furiously at the kit, making it clang out with reverence. Suddenly he was awake; the dream was over. He wiped the fog from his eyes. Wait, he was sitting behind a drum kit. Was he still dreaming? There he sat on stage, the largest crowd he'd seen screaming in front of him. He watched as his arms and legs pumped out a rhythm at the speed of light. He felt like he was dreaming, but was it ever a dream as he blew past Jim Riordan and Mike Greenfield in Atlantic City? Was he dreaming when the band called him up and said you've got the job? Was Allen Aucoin dreaming now, playing to a sold-out crowd at Philadelphia's Tower Theater?
Allen Aucoin :: The Disco Biscuits
12.29.05 :: Tower Theater, PA
Rhythm is the heartbeat of music. The drum is the basis for most music and found in nearly every culture since 6000 B.C. When a member leaves a band, there is a great uncertainty that sets in. Will a sound be restructured? Can the band survive? A band needs a backbone, and for The Disco Biscuits that rhythmic backbone was a strong force – Sam Altman. The Biscuits' drummer made the decision to walk a different path in life. Finding a replacement would raise many questions. For many, when it was announced that Sam was done, it was a way to make an escape, but it just happens that the Biscuits weren't so ready to let go of their longtime fans so easily.
After the November drum-off in Atlantic City, one force shone through. Enter the X-factor. Allen Aucoin (pronounced "O-Quinn") is the cool red-headed machine now sitting behind The Disco Biscuits beat. He's a pillar of youth and exuberance, oozing enthusiasm, energy and talent. During Allen's Berklee days, he graced the bands 722 and a short-lived eastern band called Juiceman. Most recently, he had played with Josh Becker, Dean Tovey, and Aaron Goldberg in SkyDog Gypsy. It was now time for Allen to put down the motorcycle parts and join the powerhouse known as The Disco Biscuits.
The Disco Biscuits :: 12.29 :: Tower Theater, PA
The pressure is high as he jumps into Sammy's spot. The December 29th show at the Tower was beyond anything we could have hoped for as fans - it was simply excellent. Allen's ability to play so closely and to remain so connected to the band in such a short period of time was mind-blowing. For him to step in during the New Year's run and play like he has been there for a while was truly amazing.
The show's start was powerful; the Biscuits crowd never ceases to amaze me. They hold the spot as one of the craftiest, rowdiest, dirtiest, fun-loving mixes on the face of the earth. If you think you've seen it all, get your ass out to a Biscuits show. To say the band took the stage that night is a disservice to the crowd's mayhem on the floor. As Marc Brownstein, Jon Gutwillig, Aron Magner, and Allen Aucoin struck the opening notes of "7-11," the floor made a strategic battle move. The first few rows of chairs flew everywhere, most landing in the corners of the Tower floor. The crowd surged forward in a take-no-prisoners motion, and an ass-shaking jump erupted everywhere. The evening before had given fans a chance to do their homework. It was rumored that a few key security guards were slipped some green to let the uninhibited ruckus continue. Was this right? Maybe not. Was it fun? Hell yeah!
Aron Magner :: The Disco Biscuits
12.29.05 :: Tower Theater, PA
The first hints of excitement over Allen checked in at the steamy jungle transition between "7-11" and the inverted beginning to "Jigsaw Earth." Allen broke and smoked the ending like an evil red-headed devil igniting a stogie. Allen just curled his lower lip and furled his brow. He dug into the kit with a gusto that sent those goosebumps of joy up fans' outer arms. My screams were muffled by the animalistic crowd as I received a mouthful of hair from the flailing fan in front of me. Allen locked horns with Brownie, creating a pulsing drum and bass. Marc went into pure bobblehead mode as Manger shot his spark around and pushed the mood even higher, spawned off his infectious keystroking interjections. The live electronica was tinged more jungle than trance. Allen's influences started to shine through in a who's who of Warp Records, from the drum and bass of Tom Jenkinson (aka Squarepusher), to the inventive, whacked-out jungle of Goldie.
The Biscuits stirred us into froth as Allen sped up the tempo, and the band bravely pushed forward. The Brownstein/Aucoin connection is so crucial to making the Bisco experience enjoyable. It's that drum and bass hook-up that amps the fun into spontaneous spasms of dance and trance. Allen was being eaten up left and right as the crowd passed around praise through whispers of reserved glee. Most were thrilled with Allen's drumming and the nastiness spurting from their favorite band.
Brownstein, Gutwillig, Aucoin :: 12.29 :: Tower Theater, PA
After the fast, dark, and dirty JM2 song "Tempest," the band announced they would try something new. No hesitance was shown as they dove head-first into "Allen's Dream." The techno-jam gave the ginger drumming monster a chance to thump his pair of mallets with a keen sense, establishing speed and order from within the depths of a bubbling exploratory abyss. It seemed that this moment was why those first drum sets of the late 1800's were designed, giving one person the ability to play several percussion instruments at one time. Allen became a machine conquering multiple tasks.
The band played like they'd been together for years. Aron Magner and Jon Gutwillig particularly stepped up the evening and delivered a passionate performance during the second set. The mediocre version of "Spy" gave Magner a chance to jazz his keywork up before the real gift of perhaps all of 2005 occurred. The Biscuits were pushing open some heavy old doors. A Harvard president once said, "Music rightly is the best mind trainer." If that's the case, this evening's "Dribble" was an excellent teacher. The first section of the jam held us at bay with a rock-solid build-up and breakdown anchored by Gutwillig's heavy rock-oriented rampage. The jam turned on the crowd and started to form a soundscape. That soundscape morphed and grew like a gelatinous blob. It slowly sucked us into its Jell-O mold of jiggling fans. Allen's playing granted the guitar, bass, and keys the ability to trek wildly around the theater in one of the maddest Bisco jams, reminiscent of days past. Sound was smacked this way and that as each band member worked the jam over in their own wicked way. The intricacies that grew from Magner's keyboard joined forces with Gutwillig's guitar only to roll accurately between Allen's thumps. Jon carried a superb guitar line through the climax of the dribble before the jam worked into a long, gorgeous segue, landing perfectly in the JM2 industrial-techno song "Cyclone."
Jon Gutwillig :: The Disco Biscuits :: 12.29 :: Tower Theater, PA
We were in the thick now as we spotted Tom Hamilton from Brothers Past. He must have joined the awestruck crowd and was getting down to the madness. The "Cyclone" destroyed what was left of the floor of the Tower Theater before working into a "Big Happy." Magner was chomping on the vocoder, manipulating his voice as metallic and monotonous tones rang through the Tower. This was a happy crowd, and Magner and the rest of the band fed off it with huge enthusiasm carrying us to the end of the show. The band played until the Tower asked them to finish. They begged for another ten minutes and played some more. Philadelphia was bestowed an epic Biscuits performance where almost no one left without a sweat-soaked shirt or dance-worn feet.
Aron Magner :: 12.29.05 :: Tower Theater, PA
Overall, Allen is a phenomenal replacement. He has a gift with rhythm's accent structure. He takes jams such as parts of "Dribble" and adds and subtracts louder intense notes at key times, adding interest to a jam that could go stale. He allows us, the listeners, to feel the rhythmic "groove" as a steady, danceable rhythm. Allen offers a control and consistency with his drumming but can free-form accents to add interest to the musical rhythm. He sits in a waking dream with something to prove looming over him. This might be why he seems slightly rushed at times or perhaps why his cymbal work is a little loose. Perhaps he could use them a bit more sparingly. Yet, Allen is a terrific drummer. He finished the second set to hugs and hi-fives from the whole band and crew. He has injected new life into a band in transition. Allen's no Red Bull and vodka; he's a new improved beverage kicking out beats at lightning speed, charged and ready for long evenings of live electronica-infused jungle rock. Similar to what was said about Allen, the Biscuits brought the Heat to the Tower, and the Heat was hot.
Aucoin & Gutwillig :: 12.29 :: Tower Theater, PA
It's going to be incredible to see what the Biscuits do after entering their new Philadelphia studio. Allen and company have folks thinking about the tremendous future of this band. "You can judge the health of a society by the quality of its music." (Confucius) It's fair to say fans will grow old with great music wrapped into their whiskers for years to come.
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