Biscoween 2015: The Disco Biscuits Strive for Signature Success in Syracuse [Review]
The Disco Biscuits aren't like many other bands, and they don't want to be. They are one in their own; they're original and they're musical pioneers. A top-notch Disco Biscuits show has the ability to hook you for life. There's no band that can do what they do, how they do it. The Biscuits hadn't played a Halloween show in five years so everyone was anxious to see what would take place. I know I was. After skipping the first night in Boston, I headed up to Syracuse for two nights of my favorite band, hoping that I'd witness one of those top-notch Disco Biscuits shows. Well, the band did it again; as they have so many times before, they hooked me. The run ended up being one of the best displays of the Disco Biscuits that I've seen in recent years.
Digital Buddah opened up Friday night at The F-Shed with a bang. In an extremely solid standalone version of the song, the band immediately showed off their ability to shine in rotational jamming. They took risks but there wasn't any useless noodling. Guitarist Jon "the Barber" Gutwillig exchanged dynamic melodies with keyboardist Aron Magner throughout, while drummer Allen Aucoin and bassist Marc "Brownie" Brownstein kept the four-on-the-floor energy pumping. It was a strong start to their two nights in Syracuse. Fans really went wild when the beginning notes of Oname Wa echoed through the venue. They hadn't played the song in five years so it was a nice little bust out to go along with the Sister Judy's Soul Shack that they had played in Boston the night before.
The set ended with a Confrontation>Mr. Don>Confrontation sandwich that covered a lot of ground. I feel like they've continued to build on some of their older songs this year. Confrontation seems to be one of Marc Brownstein's personal favorites, as it ends up on their set-lists often. It wasn't the best Confrontation I've ever heard but it certainly wasn't the worst. The beginning of the jam was laid back, they sat in a groove and kept it simple. They tightened up half way through and hit a lasting stretch as a band. All four of them communicating and playing together. After carrying the momentum for a few minutes they drifted into Mr. Don which added a jolt of energy to the music. Aron Magner laid down a lively synthesizer lead on his Virus that took the band into an intense livetronica jam before dropping back into the composition of Mr. Don. Jon Gutwillig took the lead in the following jam with the band dropping in behind him. It produced some signature blissco with sweet melodies and a strong bass line. It wasn't long before they all really clicked and sprinted toward the finish line hand in hand. The ending of Mr. Don is undoubtedly the highlight of the segment. Barber and Magner were plugged in to each other's wavelength. Allen Aucoin started to add a snare hit at the end of every measure and it gave pop to the jam's rhythm. Magner switches to the melodic rhythm of Brownie's bass and the band slides into a spaced out halftime jam that is very synced. The entire crowd was rocking back and forth. Barber picked up the same melodic rhythm as Brownie which allowed Magner to build a fresh lead that added air into the jam. Upon re-listening, it's awesome to hear the band working together as a singular unit, playing how they're supposed to be playing. They stepped back into the ending of Confrontation and ended the first set with a firm grip on the crowd's vibe.
The band and fans were settled into the venue after a thirty minute set-break. The Disco Biscuits returned to the stage of The F-Shed and opened up the second set with Gutwillig's classic The Very Moon. I can confidently say that almost every fan of the Biscuits enjoys a great version of the song. They pushed it into overdrive during the jam as Barber went full throttle during his solo. He let loose with Magner right behind him, backing him up the entire time - he didn't miss a single beat. They sped it up faster and faster as Brownie and Allen kept the rhythmic backbone sturdy before dropping into a tasty funk jam. Just like the Digital Buddha, The Very Moon started the second set off strong. They soared on the wings of an epic jam and shocked everyone when they ended up in I-Man. It was one of the most unique intros I've seen them play in I-Man. It was a breath of fresh air and I could sense that most everyone in the crowd felt the same way. The F-Shed erupted in the midst of I-Man which gave the band the certainty to push the jam even harder and farther. They did and it paid off. Out of the entire night, the energy in I-Man really stood out to me as being through the roof. Marc Brownstein slapped a sick bass line that Magner and Barber obviously felt as they smiled across the stage at each and nodded their heads, agreeing in the direction they were heading. They aimed for the sky and headed for the peak before sitting back down into the composition, keeping the crowd on their toes. Again, Marc Brownstein took the lead with a notable bass line that took the band down a completely different route. The Disco Biscuits ended I-Man with a classical styled jam that exemplified Aron Magner's versatility on the keys. They went from a floating psychedelic element to a rocking disco-funk sound that brought on an unfinished Little Betty Boop with definitive grace. There were a few highlights in Little Betty Boop but one stood out to me in particular. Aron Magner began teasing Jamie Shield's synthesizer melody from the New Deal's VL Tone which created a giant dance party that shook the floor.
The Disco Biscuits didn't stop there though. They went straight into Tricycle and the entire venue exploded as fans shouted the lyrics, "I'm in heaven!". Barber shredded the beginning section before signaling for the entire band to drop into a deep valley of trance. They brought us into the trenches of Tricycle before sending us into the depths of the Pink Floyd classic Run Like Hell. They've really made the song their own - it's as if they know the compositional aspect of it as well as some of their own songs. They take the cover a step further by adding their original touch of trance-fusion to it. The band encored with a shortened version of Highwire and got everyone pumped up for Halloween. Biscoween was upon us and everyone was obviously ecstatic.
The energy in Syracuse was palpable. Since the Disco Biscuits hadn't thrown a Halloween show in five years, everyone was curious as to what the night would bring. The Disco Biscuits took the stage of the beautiful Crouse Hinds Theater and the lights lit up the majestic venue. Everyone was surprised that they weren't wearing costumes. It was weird. After some cymbal work from Allen Aucoin, the bass line of Home Again began rumbling through the speakers. Jon Gutwillig and Aron Magner joined in and they all dropped into the beginning section of Home Again. It set the vibe of the night right away, all four of them seemed to be mellow yet energized. It was a good song choice to ease everyone into the night, They jammed it out and Barber shredded the middle section with pride, he gazed out into the crowd with a triumphant smile. Nobody can argue that Home Again is one of their most classic tunes, even people who aren't fans of the band know the lyrics to Home Again. The band opened up the jam section with calming space rock. Aron Magner painted illusive soundscapes with multiple layers of synthesizers. It didn't take long for the four of them to lock in as Barber began swaying back and forth, filling in the gaps of Magner's steady melody.
Catalyst appeared out of nowhere. The crowd was very receptive of it. The band hit each other's marks and entered the jam with ferocious force. There weren't any miscues or slip-ups. Although it wasn't the longest standalone version, it was strong and got the band hyped up for the segment that followed. Again, there was some excellent interplay between Magner and Barber. Barber was engaged in tight pockets of melody on his Parker Fly. It's always interesting when Brownstein puts down his bass and lays down lines on his Moog Little Phatty.
As I watched from the balcony, I knew this night was going to be one of the best shows of the year. After seeing them across the country, the jams stood out as being especially cohesive. Then came the monster segment of the night, starting off with a potent Rock Candy. Barber switched to his legendary Gibson and they turned it up another notch. He didn't rush a single note, allowing Magner and Brownie to each take turns pushing the jams. A prime example of how well this band can play when they're connecting with each other, on and off the stage. The transition into Cyclone was pure gold - pure, unadulterated Disco Biscuits. In this exact jam, the trance-fusion kings proved why and how they still have the crown. Each member was focused in their individual zones while collectively constructing musical ecstasy, synergistic minimalism that pulsates with euphoric elements.
The build and break in Cyclone was literally the best I've seen in years; the entire crowd was hooked, hanging onto every single note. When Brownie's classic bass line hit, the lights went down, and the place went absolutely ape-shit. By the looks on the band's faces, they knew how well they were clicking. Still, they didn't speed up, each member locked into an ideal tempo that allowed the song to take it's own shape. Allen didn't miss a beat but the front three were playing telepathically; Magner, Brownie, and Barber were evening each other out like a triple beam balance. Aron Magner and Jon Gutwillig have ridiculous chemistry when they're both at their best, it's unlike anything I've seen in the jamtronica scene. Marc Brownstein and Allen Aucoin are impressive in their own right, they are the nuts and bolts that hold every Biscuits jam together. Brownie's playing really impressed me during the transition out of Cyclone; he followed Barber into an epic peak, pushing it higher and higher. And then out of nowhere the band dropped into Munchkin Invasion. They dropped it on a dime and executed with impressive precision.
Just like the two songs before it, Munchkin Invasion was hot and buttery. The band sat back and enjoyed the ride, the ride that fans bought tickets to take. On certain occasions in the past I've felt like the band has forced things but on Halloween that couldn't be farther from the truth. The Disco Biscuits were firing on all cylinders. Jon Gutwillig proved one thing to every single person in that theater, that he still has what it takes to lead the most improvisational band in the scene, and his bandmates couldn't be happier. The way they were slipping in and out of the framework of Munchkin Invasion was delicate without being soft and hard-hitting without being abrasive. This segment in particular is where the rotational jamming really started to come into play. It was enormous. I personally love when the band is able to sit in a groove, keeping it minimalistic and tight-knit while still being able to push it into overdrive with sporadic jamming. Brownie signaled for the band to fly into the ending composition and they all nailed it. They walked off stage with their prideful talent buzzing. The Disco Biscuits were prepared to turn up the heat even higher for the final set of the Halloween run.
There wasn't a soul in the crowd that wasn't shocked when the Biscuits returned to the stage in full disco garb with a four-piece horn section. We had no idea what we were in store for but we all knew it was about to be huge. Barber counted the band into a monstrous M.E.M.P.H.I.S - the horns added funky layers to the song that were dialed and appropriate. I was in the front row and loving every second of it. The Philly Stray Horns didn't take away from the trance-fusion jamming at all, and that's what made the set so good. The band was able to do their thing naturally while adding an experimental twist to the special Halloween show. Jon Gutwillig took off during the jam and lit the Crouse Hinds Theater up with high-velocity guitar playing that had us reaching toward the stars with elated glory. Barber was freaking out during his solo, allowing the music to completely take control of his body and mind. Fans screamed the lyrics to the song and showed praise to the band that we all love.
The jam out of M.E.M.P.H.I.S was blissed out and impactful, it was awesome that the band incorporated the horns in the improvisation as well as the composition. I didn't hear a single mistake. Right away I knew that they had put a lot of time and effort into this performance, and it showed. They went into a spaced out funk-fusion jam before bringing singer Alita Moses to the stage. Nobody knew what to expect. What were they going to do next!? And then BOOM! Get Down On It! The song hit the crowd like a Mack Truck filled with Cocaine and Quaaludes. The entire venue was transformed into Studio 54 in a single instant - it was one of the biggest dance parties that I've ever been a part of, and ever will be a part of. The band was grooving just as hard as the fans were, if not harder. A smirk was cemented on my face and nothing could wipe it off. Get Down On It will go down as one of the best things that the Disco Biscuits have ever done. Aron Magner threw down a ridiculous synthesizer solo that started off the jam section. Then it got passed to the horn section; the saxophone player laid down a jazzy solo before passing it off to the trumpet player who blew everyone away. I was shocked, in the best way, that all of this was going down at a Biscuits show. It wasn't hard to tell that Barber loved having Alita Moses on stage with them; he was animated and happy, his passion for playing music was alive and thriving. Once the horn section and singer left the stage though, the Disco Biscuits really started to push it to the limit. They locked in into this specific pocket that I fell in love with, simplistic and sealed.
After jamming out Get Down On It for twenty solid minutes, Magner started teasing the intro notes of Spacebirdmatingcall. The transition was improvisational perfection. Brownie and Allen planted the roots for a dark and trance-fueled jam that rocked the Crouse Hinds. From there, Allen hit a few perfectly placed thirst-quenchers and the band cut the tempo in half, landing in a Funkytown jam with heart and soul. The on-stage lava lamps and Marc Brownstein's afro wig really added to the disco music pumping through the speakers. Alita Moses and the Philly Stray Horns returned to the stage for the Lipps Inc classic and together they played a fantastic rendition of the song. Aron Magner did backing vocals on the Vocoder which added a really cool effect to the cover. Alita Moses has some pipes on her, that girl can sing. The Disco Biscuits put their original twist on Funkytown and made it even funkier than the original. Barber was having the time of his life, two-stepping back and forth across the stage. Brownie grabbed a pick and it added a powerful effect to his tone. It was inspiring to see all of them pick up on each other's cues.
It didn't stop there though, the Disco Biscuits and their special guests jammed into the Bee Gee's classic You Should Be Dancing, which was a huge hit with the crowd. Jon Gutwillig and Alita Moses exchanged vocals with each other and unquestionably brought the song to life. Allen Aucoin opened up his drumming and was in sync with the horn section, creating a big sound that echoed from the back of the stage. Barber took a ripping solo that was fitting before tossing the lead to Magner who answered with a phenomenal keyboard solo. From there they went into yet another disco-funk classic, Born To Be Alive - even though it wasn't long, it definitely hit all the right spots. It supported the Halloween disco theme of the second set but it didn't come close to Get Down On It. The Disco Biscuits were definitely happy to see their idea come to life. I thought it was an excellent choice for the Biscuits to jam back into one of their originals. Although it was only the ending of 42, it was still a good choice to end the seven song segment with it.
Morph Dusseldorf came next, another classic from the Disco Biscuits discography. Once the funk section hit, we were all off to the races one last time. Alita Moses and the Philly Stray Horns returned to the stage, the Disco Biscuits had one last surprise up their sleeves. It was so proper. I mean, Rick freakin' James! The Disco Biscuits dropped into a trance-funk version of Give It To Me Baby. They gave us that funky stuff, that's for damn sure! Alita Moses did a magnificent job and really played her part well. When I saw Marc Brownstein doing the Disco Stu dance moves, I was convinced we'd been sucked into a vacuum and transported back to 1981. Who knows, maybe we were. They ended the second set with the end of Morph Dusseldorf. Aron Magner looked like a kid on Christmas when the horn section came in perfectly after his solo. The Disco Biscuits and their special guests took a final bow to the soundtrack of vibrant cheers and thunderous claps.
The Disco Biscuits returned to the stage for their encore after a colossal round of applause. The band treated the Halloween crowd to a classy rendition of Once The Fiddler Paid - one of Jon Gutwillig's best compositions and a prime example of his exceptional lyrical ability. He shouted his lyrics with heartfelt passion and raw emotion after he lifted everyone off the ground with a marvelous solo. It was a monumental ending to a massive Halloween show. A Halloween show that those in attendance will never forget. These guys never seize to impress their fans when they're locked in, and that's why we keep coming back. We keep coming back for shows like Halloween. Through the good, the bad, and the ugly; loyal fans of the Disco Biscuits will continue to travel the country (and world) to see their favorite band in action. It's been a monumental 20th year for the trance-fusion band from Philadelphia and I cannot wait to see how they end it in New York City at the Playstation Theater. But first the band and some of their most loyal fans will travel to the Dominican Republic for the second installment of Dominican Holidaze, Something special is happening to the Disco Biscuits. I can feel it in the air, like a not-so-distant storm. Can you?