The Disco Biscuits Took Extensive Risks & Delivered Deliberate Bliss to Times Square
Words by Zachary Franck
Photos by Adam Winokur & Andrew Blackstein
Now that some time has passed since the Disco Biscuits played their four-night New Year's run at Playstation Theater, I feel that I can properly review what took place; four nights of extensive risks and deliberate bliss from the kings of trance-fusion, the Disco Biscuits. I've been listening to the soundboards nonstop since they were released and they haven't gotten old yet. Each night has something that stands out - a segment, standalone, or transition that is worth listening to. The Disco Biscuits have been playing music for twenty years. Not only that, but they've continued to progress and experiment. That's what keeps fans coming back. Have they had some rough periods throughout their weathered careers? Yes, but what legendary rock band hasn't? In the live music scene today, there is no band that can keep fans on their toes like the Disco Biscuits. The masses may not realize that but fans most definitely do. During the New Year's run, there were multiple moments where I separated myself from friends, so I could fully observe and absorb the music that was coming from the stage; the progressive, enthralling sound of premier trance-fusion pumping through the speakers and pouring into the crowd. The band made sure to make this year's run extremely special for fans. With four different "musical themes", each night had enormous potential to be momentous and magnificent. The last three nights were definitely the best, with the TRON set and the final night especially standing out. One night after another, the band kept it fresh and brought the heat. There are so many moments to revel in. They may be older but they're wiser and inspired, the Disco Biscuits are ready to make 2016 stand out.
The Disco Biscuits capped off 2015 with symbolic set lists and shocking surprises. New Year's Eve will go down in Disco Biscuits history, strictly because of the third set - the TRON set. Not to mention The Wheel show and then the stellar arrangements with the Philly Stray Horns on the final night. The band and their crew put a lot of concise effort into making sure this run would be top-notch, and they pulled it off - night after night, in more ways than one. The Disco Biscuits have hit a lasting stride once again, like they have so many times before. If they continue to play at this caliber, this year is going to be even better than the last. If the New Year's run was an indication to how this year is going to go, fans of the Disco Biscuits are in for some seriously spectacular shows. The energy on New Year's Eve was ridiculously palpable, as it always is in Times Square. The city was chaotic; tourists drunkenly took photos as NYPD officers stood behind barricades, touting their semi automatic rifles down the avenues. When I finally made it inside the Playstation Theater, I was relieved and ready to celebrate the occasion.
The band opened with Little Lai and eased everyone into the night with one of Marc Brownstein's classics. Next came 7-11, which almost always gets the party started. The first set of New Year's Eve ended with a sandwich that has definitely become familiar to fans, Shelby Rose into The City and back into Shelby Rose. Jon "the Barber" Gutwillig and Marc Brownstein lead the charge as the band made their way back into Shelby Rose. It was a compact set that opened the flood gates for the rest of the night. After a surprising Hot Air Balloon countdown (without the flight section), the band slugged some champagne and dropped into their usual New Year's Eve song, Helicopters. It produced a fiery jam that started the year off right. It was what they transitioned into that really shocked the audience.
The Disco Biscuits slid into Feeling Twisted, which is not a huge fan favorite by any means. Even so, they owned the song and threw down a memorable version. They haven't played the song in a while and it exploded with furiously fresh energy. It became a trance-fueled train barreling down the tracks; Barber and Magner exchanged notes and created a synthesized catharsis of electronic melody. Brownstein laid down his bass lines on his Moog and they sat behind the sound of Magner's Virus with faithful poise. Half way through, Allen Aucoin switches to a beat that aligns itself with Barber's riff, creating a fastened groove with room to build. They set themselves up for the following song with graceful tenacity, another bust-out, Pimp Blue Rikkis. For me, it was a definite highlight from the run, they really brought the ruckus to Playstation Theater. People were stomping the floor in and head banging like a 87' Metallica show. It was a rock n' roll moment that I won't soon forget. There are few electronic jam bands that can bring it at that level. Barber's guitar solo was reminiscent to a Jimmy Paige solo, an up and down display of pure rock n' roll. He made that guitar wail and weep like a master. Jon Gutwillig might just be one of the last true rock stars on the planet. Scratch that, Jon Gutwillig is one of the last true rock stars on the planet. He seriously let loose this run, and hit almost every single one of his marks. It wasn't hard to tell how happy his band mates were. They landed on the final notes together, and closed the segment with tremendous power.
The following song will go down as one of my all-time favorite musical memories from a Biscuits show. It was an imminent moment that was executed with polished musicianship. I could keep going but let's just say, Spaga was anything but mediocre. From Aron Magner's Final Countdown intro to the drum n bass jam that capped the song off, it was undoubtedly the best standalone of the run. When Magner played the beginning chords of his classic masterpiece, the crowd went berserk. The band nailed every aspect of the song, the composition and improvisation were both grandiose and unblemished. The soundboard will be in rotation for a while.
The ending jam of Spaga is tasteful and explorative. Barber lays down some elegant licks with a blissed out tone and great focus, never straying too far from the band. The interplay between Barber and Magner was relaxed and glorious. They both had a lot of room to explore while Marc Brownstein and Allen Aucoin kept the jam pumping with pulsating grooves and rhythms that refused to rush or drag. Allen Aucoin is legitimately one of the best drummers in the game, he proves it every time he sits behind a drum kit, but this run he especially proved it. Like Marc Brownstein once said, "If Sammy created the style, Allen perfected it". He brings a certain energy to their music that is unmatched. The band landed back in the ending of Spaga and slammed the door shut on the second set with smiles stretched across their faces. It was masterful.
Before they walked off stage, Brownstein told fans they'd be back for an unannounced third set. Everyone was thrilled with elation when they realized what was about to happen. I couldn't believe my eyes when a screen dropped in front of the stage. The 1982 movie TRON, starring a young Jeff Bridges, began to play on the screen with house DJ music in the background. A lot of people didn't know what was about to happen, and those of us who did were in utter shock. We strapped in and prepared ourselves for what would end up being one of the most cosmic sets of music we'd ever witness. First off, I was especially shocked because I had just asked Brownie about this exact idea in an interview a week prior. I'd been watching their famed AKIRA set from 12/31/99 and decided to ask the question to Marc during our interview. I'm happy I did, it made the set that much cooler for me.
I can only imagine what it must've been like for fans who were at the AKIRA show. At about thirty minutes into the movie, the band walked on stage, behind the screen, and began to play. The Playstation Theater became electrified with crazed animals intoxicated on trance-fusion and TRON. To be blunt, the Disco Biscuits figuratively blew people's minds out the back of their skulls. It was the coolest thing that I've ever seen done on stage. The band took enormous risks and their execution was outstanding; from the various thematic elements they moved through to the essence of their collective improvisation. It was beyond impressive how accurate their musical interpretations of the motion picture were. As I replay the experience in my mind, I can hear the band taking triumphant risks as their silhouettes float behind the lit up screen; an elusive mixture of 4D imagery and lasers. It was a huge success and will go down as one of the coolest things that the Disco Biscuits have ever done. There's no doubt about it.
The following night brought an entirely different musical theme to the table. The Disco Biscuits and their team brought The Wheel back. The Wheel brings an unknown dynamic to the show that is unlike anything else I've seen before. I've never seen a band bring a game show wheel that's filled with their songs on stage, then invite fans to come up and spin it. It was entertaining and made it interesting to watch the band navigate through a random set-list. Especially when it landed on Moshi Fameus, Sweating Bullets, and Unspoken Rhyme. Without question, Moshi Fameus into Orch Theme was one of the dirtiest segments of the run. The walls of Playstation Theater were vibrating as Magner and Allen dropped layers of palpitating livetronica; an all out assault of synthesizers and e-drums rocked the crowd. During the transition, Barber comes in with soaring riffs as the band wholeheartedly drops into Orch Theme. The band's energy was resonating with each other and reflecting into the crowd. The jam in Orch Theme was easily some of the most elevated and stimulating improvisation that I've seen come out of the song. Magner rolls some of the sickest synthesizers, creating so much bounce before Barber joins in and sends back echoing melodies. It was easily my favorite segment of the first set. They turned the song up a few notches.
Before the show I wasn't sure if they'd bring The Wheel out for the second set. Well, they did, and it delivered. It's Allen Aucoin's tenth year in the Disco Biscuits, he spun to start the second set off and couldn't have landed on a more fitting song. He landed on Floes, a song that original drummer Sam Altman wrote so many years ago. Like Marc Brownstein said, "It was poetic". The transition into Lunar Pursuit was fast and smooth. Lunar Pursuit is by no means one of my all-time favorite songs but they broke it down and created a lot of space to work with. Magner created an eerie element as the band decompressed into the trenches of trance. They entered a spacious zone; thumping bass lines and kick drums mixed with tumbling keys and refined guitar riffs. Barber took the lead and shined, laying down patient riffs with calm yet tenacious focus, Allen sat in the pocket and built a platform for the band to enter Sweating Bullets. It was the first Sweating Bullets in over five years and they didn't let fans down. Magner takes the lead and pumps some adrenaline into the jam before Brownie steps it up and drops some bombs. They drop into the song as a unit and let it rip, thunderous drums and bass with distorted strumming and haunting synths. It was an outstanding song to end the three song segment. There were a number of fans who were freaking out when The Wheel landed on Unspoken Rhyme, which hasn't been played in over fifteen years. A song that was written by Aron Magner so many years ago. To have two huge bust-outs in the same set was unreal.
The final night of the run was unbelievable. After all that the Disco Biscuits had already done, I wasn't sure if they'd be able to top it off. But they did, and they pulled it off in a majestic fashion. One set with the Philly Stray Horns featuring two special guests and one set of pure, unadulterated trance-fusion. The horns bring an entirely different element out of the Disco Biscuits, it shows just how versatile they can be. To witness how well the horn arrangements worked on their originals was awe-inspiring. Barber counted the band in and they broke into the night with an exhilarating version of King Of The World. The music had a heartbeat from the start, it was alive and the band was tight. Along with the Spaga from NYE, I'd rank King Of The World as the other top standalone of the run. The horns worked very well and definitely added a little spark to the Biscuits.
Again, Barber lead the charge as they dropped into Caterpillar. It was interesting to see a horn section play the melodies of this song, it was actually really tasteful. From there, they segued into an inverted Confrontation. The ending jam was blissed out Nintendo music, raw musical ecstasy. Then they burst back into the ending of Caterpillar, it was gloriously victorious and more explosive than a box of fire crackers. The entire three-song segment has been cemented in my memory. I also thought it was really cool that they played Spy next, and the horns worked exceptionally well with it. We got three of Aron Magner's best songs in three nights, and I definitely didn't hear any complaining. A lot of people thought that the horns worked the best on top of Spy. the Biscuits closed the set with some old school, feel good music; they invited two of their friends on stage who were dressed as the Blues Brothers, and they played Soul Man and Everybody Needs Somebody from the soundtrack. It was a fun way to end the set, but I knew everybody was pumped for what was coming next.
After the TRON set, the final set of the run was easily my favorite. The band brought the ruckus - it was pure, fresh off the boat Biscuits. Uncut, unmixed, undiluted trance-fusion at its core. You know the band is locked and loaded when they deliver a steaming four song set. It doesn't always happen, but when it does, it's virtuously superior to most any live music you have ever seen. From the first note of the final set, I could tell how comfortable they felt. The intro jam in I-Man is one of the most incredible intros I've seen live. They had a developed focus from the start, mixed with complete and total patience - a combination that creates top-notch Disco Biscuits. Building on multiple themes, they established deep roots with long branches, giving themselves plenty of room to roam. The band took advantage of the sensational energy of another sold out show on a Saturday night in Times Square, like they've done so many times before. They let go of all the pretenses and presumptions, and just played really well together.
The I-Man was fifty-five minutes of constructed, sometimes risky, improvisation. Each musician contributed a building block to make the final result memorable. As they begin to ascended into Svengali, Barber literally went off. He shredded the transition in a way that was both stunning and signature. Allen was demolishing his kit with passionate and precise playing while Magner shows off his musical flexibility once again. His exceptional piano part put smiles on the faces of Brownie and Barber; there is nobody that does what Aron Magner does, and if they do, they don't do it as good as him. Brownie sat behind Magner with a ideal groove that the band rode into Astronaut. The second half of Astronaut is methodically and melodically dialed in. Johnny R. Goode did a specifically good job with the lighting design during this song. The band slows it down and lays down the psychedelic dance music that they're known for. They finished the set with a fitting choice, the ending of Reactor. Fans shouted the lyrics, "There's no way to kick us out!", as the band shut down their final set with pride and satisfaction.
During the last encore, I gazed into a spattered reflection of pink and blue lights as they bounced off the chandeliers of the Playstation Theater. The Biscuits were ripping through Run Like Hell and I couldn't help but smile. Another year has come and gone. This one will be engraved in our minds for the rest of our lives. The Disco Biscuits and their fans celebrated their deliberate bliss, symbolic patience and systematic execution as they continue to push themselves to break boundaries - to get the musical recognition that they deserve. The Biscuits are pioneers that have left a lasting mark on the world of live music. Twenty years down, and they're not stopping anytime soon. This is the band that I want to see on stage every single time I walk into a venue. Trusting each other's talent with passion and conviction, they've made it through the dark times and are headed for the light at the end of the tunnel. And that, that is what every single fan of this band wants and needs. 2016 is going to be filled with enormous progression and everlasting promise. The Disco Biscuits are going to bring it to the next level. They are seizing what is rightfully theirs. As a young music journalist, It's been astonishing to witness the evolution that's taking place within the band. They've already announced numerous runs and we're only in the first month of the year. From one spectacle to the next, I cannot wait to see what the band does this year, I'll see everyone in Philadelphia at The Fillmore!