Hometown Biscuits Rule the 23rd Annual Jam on the River
Philadelphia's favorite jam friendly festival kicked off its 23rd annual party by the Delaware River on Penn's Landing. This perfect city location set the scene for two days and three nights of live music and camaraderie. People of all ages come out to sit in the sun, shop the vendors, and ultimately dance to the diverse lineup created by the Live Nation community. Jim Sutcliffe and Rachel Spivak are two of minds behind this great festival who continuously provide this community with an array of bands that any music lover will appreciate.
The music started promptly with an early afternoon set of Philadelphia's own Grimace Federation. As I arrived at Festival Pier, I heard the smooth sonic beats of the ever evolving band. Today, they reminded me of MMW, and by the end of their set, more and more people arrived to join in on the fun.
When they finished, the didactic beats and grooves of RJD2 kicked it inside the tent, which also contained all of the vendors. RJD2 perfectly combined his skills on the turntable, while incorporating musicians into the web that he spun through the listeners minds. The often occurring video game beats impressed the crowd throughout the short set.
Josh Ritter took the main stage shortly afterward with his vibrant band of characters. The happy Idaho native brought great vibes to the stage. After the first couple songs, he introduced his prolific bass player, Zack Hickman, as "on the moustache," referring to the huge handlebar stache Hickman was rockin'. Hickman's on stage rhythm and antics were delightful for a live crowd to watch. At one point he was playing bass and percussion at the same time. In the introduction of the next song, Ritter said, "This song is for our soon to be ex-president, Dick Cheney." Then, the band went into "Girl in the War," a song about the ridiculousness of the war in Iraq. The crowd cheered loudly and swayed to the melody. Later, he said, "This is Bob Dylan's birthday, so this is a Bob Dylan song," and quickly started playing "When I Paint My Masterpiece." They encored with "Empty Heart."
Next up was the California DJ, Bassnectar. He started with dub, and moved through the tentacles of electronic bass heavy mixes. This was the low point of the lineup for me on this day, but people mostly used this time to eat, socialize, dance, or check out the festival grounds. During this time I met up with a familiar face from former Phish tours. Some of you may know him as either Clay "the Harpua guy" or Clay "the Uno guy." We called him that because he sold Harpua stickers after every show and handed out Uno cards randomly to people. After receiving several Uno cards over the years, I asked him the meaning behind it all. He stated, "It is an on going art project that my friends have developed. There are cards that are rare and common cards with artistic creations on them." So, if anyone was wondering about the Uno cards like I have been, it all makes sense now. Then, he gave me one of his favorite from a Japanese Uno deck. The crowd was preparing for what was to come and for good reason.
The Disco Biscuits have played this festival for years because of their local lure. Today belonged to them. They had four sets of music to play between this afternoon set and their late night show at the Electric Factory. The natives brought it today! I've seen my share of Biscuit shows, but none like I would see on this day and night. The afternoon two sets began with a greeting from Marc Brownstein, bassist and one of the patriarchs of the jam community. The opening song was a perfect surprise that confused and amazed the crowd. I could see people trying so hard to figure out where they've heard this song before. The band played "Wizards in Winter," which was played after the band teased "Save the Robots." "Wizards in Winter" is the song by Trans-Siberian Orchestra on that Budweiser Christmas commercial with the lights on the houses performing a light show to music. What a way to start a show! This momentum drove them through till the morning. They were as relentless and fearless as I ever saw them as they went plowing into the ending of "Morph Dusseldorf." Allen Aucoin's rapidly moving hands led into a mind bending tickler by keyboard player Aaron Magner.
Another surprise came when guitarist and songwriter, Jon Gutwillig played the first notes of their rock opera "Hot Air Balloon." The beautiful Hawaiian island riffs of "Kamaole Sands," came next, and then straight back into the ending of "Wizards in Winter." The mellow "Rockafella" came next, and a fluffy "Air Song," concluded the first set.
After a HeadCount endorsement by one of its ambassadors Marc Brownstein, a bass slappin' intro to "Shem-Rah Boo" got the crowd moving again. As the crowd was dancing the Biscuits went into a fairly new song debuted in March appropriately called "The City," and "Shem-Rah Boo" was left unfinished. The electronics came to stage next with an inverted "And the Ladies Were the Rest of the Night," back into "Kamaole Sands" from the first set. Brownstein's "Mastermind," which has only been played eight times and "Spacebirdmatingcall" featured on They Missed the Perfume finished the set in an abstract spacey way. Finally, "World is Spinning" closed out the show. Overall, it was a great performance by the Disco Biscuits, and the best of their shows was still to come.
The Flaming Lips came out as expected in large fashion. As usual, after a few technical delays, the show exploded into the starting position with streamers being shot out and a stage full of pink bunnies and Iron Man costumed men dancing forming a collage of craziness. After a couple of classic songs and Wayne Coyne's classic trip through the crowd in the hamster ball, the vibe picked up and the crowd was into it. Then came the most memorable part of the set. Coyne encouraged everyone to get naked as he said he pictured people doing at a Led Zeppelin concert. They played "The Song Remains the Same" and brought to the stage four naked girls to dance throughout the song. In perfect Lips style, Coyne brought out one of the dancers and had the crowd sing "Happy Birthday," to this lucky 18 year old. They continued with their mystical set with "Fight Test," "Mountainside," "Pompeii Am Götterdämmerung," "She Don't Use Jelly." The Flaming Lips brought their incredible set to a close with a crowd favorite, "Do You Realize." A lot of people say that the Flaming Lips play the same show all the time, blah, blah, blah, but one thing that I have to say is that although I've seen them a bunch of times, I want to see them again very, very soon because of the emotion that they bring to their music. They bring crowds to a different place, and for that they will be loved and remembered for a long time.
I've talked to a lot of very big Disco Biscuits fans, and they agreed with me that this was one of their best shows in a long time. For me personally, it was the best Disco Biscuits show that I've ever seen. I was extremely impressed after seeing a few sub par shows within the past few years, and today blew my mind. After a terrific first show at the festival, the Biscuits continued to break stride with an amazing sold out late night show. As I approached the venue, the line for will call was extremely long as the opening sounds of "Step Inside" ironically thumped out into the streets. This opener wasted no time, and the four song first set excelled into a dark dance party "42," which went unfinished because they flawlessly connected it to the middle section of "Crickets." I don't know how drummer Allen Aucion's hands made it throughout this day. His drumbeats were super fast and constant. I had a shot with him after the show backstage and he was as calm as a Buddhist. The first set closed with the ending of a quirky "Svenghali," which completely surprised even the most die hard of the Biscuit's fans.
The second set was amazing! This band was like a train riding through the night picking up steam as it got closer to its destination. The band opened with one of their oldest songs "Morph Dusseldorf." This mixed into a jazzy "Resurrection," which has re-emerged this year since 2003. Slowly Magner tranced the crowd into "Orch Theme" written by Conspirator, which is a side band consisting of Magner, Brownstein, and Omen. "Astronaut" and "Caterpillar" finished off the second set and really sent the crowd into another place. "Caterpillar" was one of my favorite jams of the night, and a perfect song to end on. Johnny Goode also showed why he is one of the best lighting technicians in the business. The lights for this set assisted fans into their ascent into bliss. The colored consistency helped the crowd use imagery to see the lyrics and hear images. The crowd feedback was loud and often came in large waves during these last two songs. The encore was another classic "M.E.M.P.H.I.S." I started seeing the Disco Biscuits in 1996, so I truly appreciated the step into memory lane with some of their older songs. There is a certain feel to them that mixes well with their newer stuff. It gives the show a better balance, and diversifies the electronic heavy shows. Gutwillig led the way on the last song of the night with the beautiful riffs and one of the best solos that I've ever heard him play on "Therapy." This encore acted as a gentle jam, which couldn't have been a better way to leave this long day of music.
I couldn't end this review without addressing a very closed-minded and amateur review that I read from Kyle Dean Reinford from brooklynvegan.com about this show. Reinford writes:
"...Next up was the Disco Biscuits. I. Hate. The Disco Biscuits. God damn awful jam-band. They'd start a song, and ten minutes in I'd be looking around the crowd, staring into the sky, looking at the river, come back outta my zone-out...and it's the same god damn song lksjglkajl ugh. SO boring. Just meandering jam-band horse shit. It was around this time I noticed that the entire crowd except for me were bros and hippies."
Why would someone cover an event called Jam on the River and complain about bands jamming? This guy must have been the only lonely one at this venue because both venues were rockin' when the Biscuits played. I'm not the biggest Disco Biscuits fan in the world; on the other hand, I'm intelligent enough to give credit where credit is due. They played two great shows on this day, and the first day of Jam on the River was a complete success.