12/29/10 Terminal 5 New York City, NY
The day after Christmas I hightailed it out of Texas and braved the insane ice storm that was currently devastating the Northeast. I felt like I was the only person in the world who actually flew in successfully to catch the Disco Biscuits‘ three night New York City NYE Run. I had heard countless horror stories of friends who hoped to make it from Florida, Colorado and anywhere else. I was very thankful to catch two out of the three nights and rage all the after parties at Touch. Due to the unfortunate and scary news that Biscuits’ drummer Allen Aucoin had been hospitalized from a severe asthma attack, Mike Greenfield, Adam Deitch, Darren Shearer, and Sammy Altman would all be graciously supporting the band during the run. It is amazing how quickly these musicians are able to step up, learn material and do a helluvah job playing with the Biscuits. I’m sure most fans would agree that they were most stoked for the chance to catch an entire Disco Biscuits show with their original drummer, Sammy.
I have been listening to the Biscuits since 2006, but it wasn’t until I began to listen to recordings of their shows from 2005 and earlier that I really began to appreciate their songwriting. At first I became interested in the band and their electronic side, but it wasn’t until I heard their serious Rock n Roll and Jazz roots that I developed a real love for their music. Shows like Sonar Ballroom (May 27th, 2005) really helped me hear the power and presence of Sammy. His range is stellar and he loves to get heavy- my kind of drumming. The only other time I got to see him play was during his daytime set appearance at Camp Bisco 8, where the band blew me away with “Once the Fiddler Paid.”
At the Wednesday night show at Terminal 5, Altman’s presence called for an old school set-list packed with time tested favorites. The song choice and original lineup made for an amazing night. The whole band channeled one another from ten years back, causing Brownie, Magner and Barber to play in an almost playful manner. I know, that sounds obvious, but there was an old innocence to their sound. The Biscuits love special occasions, and they rarely disappoint when its time to bring the heat.
The show began with a five minute warm up jam. Magner played some repeating high and low flute sounds, which compelled the rest of the band to move into a real smooth groove. Once the band and the crowd seemed ready to burst, the familiar “I-Man” was released – one of the first songs I can remember seeing live and a favorite of nearly every fan. Terminal 5 buzzed to “I-Man” for twenty five minutes as I was pleased to hear Altman crashing the cymbals and flying around his set. Unlike the previous nights, the sold out third night was a good mix of meditative veteran fans and die-hard Bisco ragers. I could barely stay in one part of the venue for five minutes as I tried to catch hugs from friends all over. Things got weird, as they should when the quartet jams on and on.
The band formed a sporadic peak and the crowd could tell what kind of night it was gonna be as they went right into a “Run Like Hell” jam. The Biscuits like to use this song to try some experimentation, which can be hit or miss. Much of the song was alright but there were moments when Magner or Barber would try something out and repeat it for way too long. I took the time to check out the backstage balcony and watch Sammy and Magner up close- not a bad place to be. Leaving “Run” unfinished, the Biscuits toned it down and eased back into an exhilarating “I-Man” ending.
I was all smiles and dance moves at this point. I immediately knew what was next as I recognized “Above the Waves” and got a giddy feeling knowing that the band was already on point and beginning such an ill song. Space trance ensued. Brownstein pumped away at his bass and was the focus of the jam. It wasn’t my favorite “Waves” jam, I like it better when they get more minimal and quiet with it. Thirteen minutes in, the chorus brought the song back to life and there was a short sing-along. After a sudden break and halt to music, the band played a surreal and loving ending. It all came together beautifully. “The Doctor, Sam Altman!” Brownie cheered, as the song and the set drew to a close.
The first three minutes of the twenty one minute long “Aceetobee” was as smooth and funky as I’ve heard. Barber’s guitar tone and accuracy throughout much of the song remained on point. I even dug his insane noodling around, as he seemed to maintain focus. I can recall standing front and center for the whole song, although I could not stand still. Sammy and Brownie’s rhythm was unrelenting, as time flew by at a rapid pace. As things slowed and softened about ten minutes in, the old chemistry was apparent. Magner’s current synth experimentation met Barber’s cosmic guitar reverb, Brownie’s head banging plucking and Altman’s sporadic high hat in their jam realm. I wasn’t that impressed by how the jam built back up, as they all went off in their own directions and it was a little much for the mind to handle. Although, I know its that detached quality that some fans yearn for. The last minute transitioning into “Down to the Bottom” was bonkers. Magner went a little Phantom of the Opera on the organ before dropping out and letting Brownie and Barber end the song.
“Down to the Bottom” is not my thing. Looking into the lyrics, I am left with a Phishy taste- not very insightful, although they try hard to be. But I tend to look into words too much for this scene I suppose. The jam in the middle of the song was soothing and compelling, but holy shit Magner creates an almost overly ambitious battle with his repeating lazer sounds! I am impressed by how Sammy is able to lead the transitions in the jams and back into the melody with his heavy toms and pounding snare. I could have done without the goofy melody of this song, however.
Time for some musical banter. As the band warms up for “M.E.M.P.H.I.S,” Brownie addresses the crowd: “Taking this moment here to send my thoughts and my prayers down to Alabama with Allen, you guys should too.” Leaving the fans with something to think about as the band proceeds to give it their all. I thought “M.E.M.P.H.I.S” rocked and it was exhilarating singing along with the packed T-5 crowd. The nostalgic quartet produced a full and familiar sound, with Barber’s bending strings leading the way. Love how one minute Magner brings the funky keyboard skank, and the next he is producing Dark Side of the Moon style synth groundwork.
“Confrontation” was hands down my favorite moment of the week. As I walked out of the venue later that night to flyer for the Touch after party, I remember singing the melody loudly at fans walking past. The band started the song off beautifully, almost serenely. Barber’s solo to transition into the chorus was solid, and behind his sleek sunglasses he was all business. The sold out crowd shimmyed about and sung along with the band. Euphoria hit as Magner’s echoing keys signaled the funky verse. With compelling lyrics and in a good vocal range, I love to hear the band sing this one. I thought it was one of the best jams of the night, allowing all of the members to show off their skills. They finished off the second set with an ending of “Confrontation” into a short and powerful finish of “Run Like Hell.”
“Some of you guys have never seen Sammy play before. He’s still got it!” Brownie said as the band geared up for the encore. The band chose a song from their beginnings, a fitting end to such a nostalgic night. “Home Again” is a quintessential anthem for the Bisco community that makes you feel the loving togetherness we yearn for. “Sammy Sammy Sammy Sammy!”
12/28/10 Terminal 5 – New York City, NY
By Drift Dodgers
Am I getting old and jaded? The subjective nature of a show experience makes objective criticism that matters to anyone a challenge – I don’t wanna ruin it for young fans, but I don’t wanna be complacent or dishonest about my impressions while opening debates with other vets. Tuesday the 28th went off as a success to most who attended the show- the kids and noobs were stoked, and I don’t say this hatefully, its just a fact. I thought it was pretty weak sauce personally, but I had a good time anyway. Even a mediocre Biscuits show is still fun, thank God. “Svengali” was the highlight of first set, and the jam out of it got me movin. “Park Ave” is a solid new tune and “Caves of the East” is always interesting. The song choice was strategic for the guest drummers of the night – few vocals, mostly new songs that are jam vessels and electronic jump-offs – a wise choice with Adam Deitch and Darren Shearer, but the jams never really took off for me.
There is a style trend happening in many jambands to go for big, fast climaxes, building a crescendo and then hammering on the E string, drum fills flying – it’s fun and gets a roar from the crowd and brings everything together neatly but in the end is just a lot of simple noise.. This will always be a part of this type of music, but should never be the highlight or the goal. Its become a safety net, a default jam direction for lack of anything more complex or imaginative, when the noodling or repetitive trance beat loses momentum. I’ve always thought the goods came when the guitar steps back for a minute and licks in with funk and blues riffs, getting mean and deep, venturing thoughtfully through different styles of rock and electronica, taking surprising turns and chances.
I’m not picking on Barber or the Biscuits, though they fall back on this kind of over-stimulation a lot, because everyone from Phish to Umphrey’s is doing it more and more it seems. These bands are putting on great “shows” I’ve seen a thousand times before, crafted with spectacle and nostalgia, riding on flashing lights and old classics, indulging in some questionable new material, and sending us off with a bang – its become a hackneyed, predictable formula that makes me feel like I’m being taken by PT Barnum, not witnessing spontaneous upwellings of genius and pioneering explorations into improvisational music, which is the only reason to keep going to these events for me. I’m over everything else. I want THEIR SOULS, or I’m not interested anymore.
The Phish New Year’s show was a perfect example of this. They played all the hits and blew away the kids with stage dancers, balloons dropping from the ceiling and the old gimmick of riding a giant hotdog above the crowd. Now I’m all for theatrics and spectacle, but this was clearly the main focus and plan for this major “music” event. The jams were an afterthought, concise and uninteresting; I wasn’t dancing for more than five minutes at a time during the whole show. It was fun and memorable, but at this point I need to feel like I’m on the cutting edge of music creation and underground culture to put the resources and time into going out of my way for these bands. The first and last night of the run were much better in this regard, but they’re just not blowing me away right now with their improvisation, which is why I’ve wanted to see them so many times – because I didn’t know what was going to happen, because good or bad it was always new.
“42” is a nice tune, but it cant carry a second set… Who is writing these setlists anyway? I could do better picking songs out of a hat. The vocals for “Portal To An Empty Head” and “Catalyst” are simply not good but the songs work as jam vessels, especially the blistering guitar cyclone in the middle of “Portal” that reminds me of “Kitchen Mitts,” which I wish they’d play instead. “We Like To Party” and “On Time” are weak and annoying too, sorry to say, but again go into cool tronce sections that could potentially rage. I feel like the band is surrounded by 20 year old spunions that tell them that everything they do is good, so excuse me for being harsh, but someone has to tell it straight. The lights were sick. My girlfriend had a good time.
I’ve been spoiled by witnessing some of the sickest Bisco shows, so whenever its not straight sex for three hours that I leave soaked and dilated, I’m like “Meh.” Its partially my problem for wanting every show to be some epic, mind-melting, legendary moment. I don’t expect this to happen often – however, I would like to feel like these bands I’ve supported and traveled and sacrificed for are at least trying to deliver that at all times, instead of getting too high, going through the motions, putting on “shows,” trying to get to the next big event. The following night was obviously gonna be the heater, but I was hoping for some more dynamic instrumentation and drops Tuesday.