Renaissance Innovators: Bisco CO & Beyond
Before I even begin to describe the Disco Biscuit madness that has been transpiring lately, I would like to qualify the title of this article. The word renaissance means rebirth. I use it because in the 14 years that I have been a fan of the band, I have never seen this rapid rate of success, drive, and fan appreciation that I have witnessed within the last year, specifically since the Colorado run and the debut of their newest release entitled Planet Anthem. Good things are happening in the Bisco world right now, and if you have been involved in the music business long enough, it is plain to see. As far as innovating goes, I do not care what anyone says, they invented a genre of music years ago, and they are continuing to innovate within that genre and others. It is truly amazing how they have taken their influences and their talents to the place that they have reached today. One can maybe say that electronic jam bands were around when the Disco Biscuits started, but where are they now? In addition, a lot of what they are playing now is so evolved from a music genre classification. The bottom line is the band is still touring harder than ever, playing all different festivals, including their own Camp Bisco, cruises, side projects, and even international getaway shows at resorts.
Although this review of the Colorado run is slightly dated, it works out better because even after Bonnaroo and Phish tour, I can say with honest certainty that this Colorado Disco Biscuit run was the best of the summer of 2010. I did not attend Camp Bisco, but with the rave reviews that I have been hearing recently from fans and critics, I stand firm in my statements that they are on fire right now. The band chemistry and new lasers provided by lighting director phenomenon Johnny R. Goode, who proposed to my great friend Rebecca Schreiber before the Colorado run have been epic. Each of the Colorado shows had their own personality including the Conspirator and the Jon Gutwillig solo acoustic show. Some were even lucky enough to catch their all acoustic set earlier the day of the Boulder Theater show outside of the courthouse on Pearl St.
Disco Biscuits - Boulder Theater 5/27/10
The addition of any band of this magnitude to the tranquil town of Boulder has an impact, but when the Biscuits come to town we rage. This was all evident upon pulling up to the venue with its bright marquee gleaming on top of the sold out crowd of fans who have come from all over the country for the beginning show of this run. The theater was full inside too, but friendly faces and even dedicated fans in Ninja Turtle outfits made it feel comfortable. The warm-up feel of “Flash Mob” started things off, but it only took until the end of the second song, “Rivers,” to realize that guitarist Jon “Barber” Gutwillig was healed after surgery in his forearm. Gutwillig was out for a while and temporarily replaced with RAQ guitarist Chris Michetti. After the beginning of the next song “Story of the World,” which went unfinished, there were no breaks till set break. The old school forty-two minute “Aceetobee” jazz build up sandwich carried us into the break with the Conspirator written “Boom Shanker” in the middle.
Bassist and founder of HeadCount a non profit organization designed to register voters, Marc Brownstein psyched up the crowd to start the second set by saying how good it was to be back in Boulder while cluing the crowd in on the weekend's constant festivities. Aron Magner's keyboard buzz and the speedy drums of Allen Aucoin began “Save the Robots.” This high energy dance fest started the set off right as the song climaxed about halfway through leading smoothly to “The Very Moon.” About half way through the song to the end of the set was my favorite part of the show. Brownstein was dropping drippy bombs and Aucoin was flying. Magner's “Digital Buddha” sandwich brought the untz next with a “Lunar Pursuit” as the meat. They encored with “Spy,” which has not been played since Halloween in Chicago.
Then, it was off to the Fox Theater across town to see a Biscuits side band, Conspirator. The show started late after a DJ set. Chris Michetti sat in on a lot of the show, and the crowd seemed to enjoy the down tempo trance section of the evening's music. It was not overly crowded so we danced comfortably into the hours of the morning. Fortunately, there was rest for recharging through the day and the Biscuits were at the Ogden Theatre in Denver later that night.
Disco Biscuits – Ogden Theatre 5/28/10
I was lucky enough to carry merchandise for the band to the show and stumbled upon one of my favorite parts of the weekend. Apparently, there was a contest for the donor who bid the most money for HeadCount where he got to make the setlist with Brownstein for this night's show. I was lucky enough to hear the two of them backstage carefully and jovially discussing the setlist while intertwining it with Red Rocks' setlist the following night. The individual who won the contest was obviously a huge fan of the band because Brownstein seemed to really enjoy the moment. The two laughed and put their heads together for a show that neither one of them would forget. It was a great moment to catch as an outsider looking in because of its raw genuineness. The band seemed to enjoy themselves backstage that night before the show, and as they went on stage and after his usual, “What's up,? Brownstein said, “Glad to be back at the Ogden. I feel like ever since we began playing the Ogden, everything started going right for us.” He then lead the band into a “Voices Insane” sandwich with the Pink Floyd cover “Run Like Hell” in the middle as their opener. Magner led the band into the cover with his funky synth grooves that permeated throughout the sandwich. “Run Like Hell” was unfinished, but out of the sandwich came a first time ever played “The Bridge” with Brownstein on vocals. Another vocal favorite written by Gutwillig off of Senor Boombox came next with “Jigsaw Earth” to end the first set.
The second set opened with Brownstein reminding everyone that “Tomorrow night is the first show of the year at Red Rocks,” while confirming their excitement for the gig. “Spectacle” and “Air Song” got everyone floating for the punchline, the classic “Basis for a Day,” which also went unfinished even after almost 30 minutes. It was finished the next night at Red Rocks. The band has been playing “Basis for a Day” since 1995 when it appeared on their earliest recording Encephalous Crime and again on The Wind at Four to Fly in 2006. It is truly a journey. The song takes its listener through a series of different places throughout it's entirety. It was a tough act to follow but Brownstein's “Rock Candy” sandwich with “Tricycle” in the middle, which has already been played more this year than any other since its inception in 2000 was a nice fit. The encore was fitting with two others songs already played from their rock opera entitled Hot Air Balloon including this night's opener. They finished with “Once the Fiddler Paid.” It was beautiful, and in retrospect, the perfect closer.
Bisco Inferno! - Red Rocks Amphitheater 5/29/10
It's always enlightening when attending any events at this country's most beautiful venue. But it was extra humbling for me this time since I would finally be going backstage with all access to the famous tunnel of autographs and band graffiti, all of the bands rooms, and the delicious cafeteria that is setup under the stage. It was also the night of a Stanley Cup Finals game, and as a die-hard Flyers fan, I wanted to figure out a way to take this all in. Luckily when I got there, and I should of known since the Biscuits are from Philly, but the game was on a large television with several Flyers fans around it. As I mingled throughout all of the rooms in awe of Red Rocks' history and several pictures of the great musicians that have graced this stage, I almost forgot that there was a show going on. The opening bands were all fun heavy hitting electronic bands such as: Pnuma Trio, Aeroplane, The Glitch Mob, The Crystal Method, and my favorite of the night, Booka Shade, who actually played at set break during the Biscuits show. I have seen most of the bands before, and as I periodically went out to take a glimpse I did not find that any of them were at their best on this day. I missed Pnuma Trio altogether, but The Glitch Mob and the Crystal Method played nice mid day Red Rocks sets. Maybe I was just so amped for the Biscuits after the previous two nights, but it seemed like the crowd was really hungry for the meat of this show.
As the night drew closer, the crowd grew with anticipation, and finally Brownstein welcomed the crowd to the 2nd Bisco Inferno at Red Rocks. At this point, I was in the photo pit for my first three songs, so no one in the entire venue was closer to the stage then me, and as I looked back into the crowd I saw the elation as the band opened with the title of their rock opera written in 1998 by Gutwillig, “Hot Air Balloon,” which I recalled hearing about at the Ogden the night before. This song about escaping corruption, survival, and running off with the love of your life only to live happily ever after could not have had a better back drop. “Gangster,” the song that perfectly slides out of “Hot Air Balloon” followed. Brownstein's new song, “Portal to an Empty Head” flawlessly came next with Gutwillig soulfully sang and chanted “Red Rocks...owwwww!” Suddenly, Chris Michetti, who played for about a month and a half with the Biscuits as Gutwillig healed came up to play guitar with Gutwillig, and the crowd roared in ecstasy. I have been a big fan of Michetti's since seeing him play with RAQ for years. There were times that I can remember seeing them in Vail where my friends and I were the only people in the entire venue. It was great to see him all weekend backstage, on stage, and ripping together as two of our generations best guitarists compliment each other with tremendous speed and continuity. Guitars were screaming, and all I kept thinking throughout the entire night was, “How am I going to capture this weekend into words?” Brownstein confirmed the sickness and then they played “Mindless Dribble” from They Missed the Perfume for the first time of 2010. As the photographers scrambled to get out of the pit, I danced my way to my friends to kick it as hard as I could for the rest of the night. Often during this song, I wondered if drummer Allen Aucoin is really a machine. I cannot for the life of me figure out how he keeps the speed and precision that he maintains. The last seven minutes of the song really kicked the dance party up a notch as they went into Magner's “The Great Abyss,” which got my vote for the best song of the first set for sure. If you can't dance to this song then maybe music is just not your thing. They led the disco back into the opener “Hot Air Balloon” to close the first set with Gutwillig wailing as if he not only didn't have surgery, but playing better than I have ever heard him play before.
The second set started with Brownstein thanking all of the bands that played, but more importantly guaranteeing that they will be back next year as well. “House Dog Party Favor” led things off in adventurous fashion followed by my favorite song off of their brand new album “Planet Anthem,” which is called “On Time,” apparently written for the ladies. Who knew it would be my favorite song? The live version is slightly different with Magner using a voice box to sing the lyrics, and it may even be slowed down a bit, but it still packs the punch. On the album it was mixed by Simon Posford and sung by the rapper Tu Phace. When the Biscuits recorded this album they had the opportunity to collaborate with many local groups in the their studio Diamond Riggs purchased in 2006 from DJ Jazzy Jeff in my old neighborhood of Old City Philadelphia. I think if they can somehow bring the fire that's on the recording to the stage, this could be an arena rocker. I never usually prefer a studio version to a live one, but for this song I made an exception. As I was dancing in the VIP section, I noticed that Michetti was dancing right next to me. The ironic thing about that was that about two minutes later, I looked onstage and he was there for the second time of the night to play on the next song which went into the complete opposite direction and took me into my Biscuit roots. “M.E.M.P.H.I.S.” was one of the first songs that I remember hearing by them besides “Little Betty Boot” and “Jamillia.” While I was backstage during set break I heard that pyrotechnics were coming during the third song so I was eagerly anticipating the fire. Aside from some bombs that Brownstein dropped I did not see any during this song, but shortly into “Minions” came shots of fire sparking up. Between Magner's keyboard sounds and Goode's lighting magic, I thought aliens were going to come down at any second to party. The completion of “Basis for a Day” from the night before took the audience by surprise, and the recently rarer “Magellan” closed the show. About halfway through, the spacey jam escalated into a frenzy before they gently put us down. But of course, before the encore Brownstein had to show his love one last time by saying that, “Colorado has quickly become our best market in the country. Thanks to you guys. We love it here if you couldn't tell by the fact that seven of the twenty-four shows we've played this year have been in Colorado, and we are going to keep coming back. We love you.” As the crowd applauded, they appropriately went into their encore, “Home Again.” As the show ended we quickly went back stage to gather our belongings, contribute to the signatures in the tunnel, and take pictures one last time during this amazing weekend at this legendary venue. Needless to say, we were the last ones to leave, and I have never seen Red Rocks clear out so fast in my life.
Jon “Barber” Gutwillig solo acoustic – Fox Theater 5/30/10
After a weekend like this it was hard to imagine even leaving my couch to go to the bathroom let alone another more mellow show, but I am so glad that I did. I had to at least show my respects for the guitarist who just blew my mind for three days. As expected the Fox was about half full, but I was not the only one who toughed it out. Gutwillig's whole band including Michetti was there to support him in the audience and even on stage at times. Barber's humor permeated throughout the entire show. I have never seen him as a comedian, but he was really fast, witty, and all together funny all night. He came on stage right on time with his glasses on and a flannel shirt like he was playing to us in our living room, which was actually what everyone was wishing for. He opened with “I-Man,” which was perfect, and then as requested by a friend named Sal, he played “Mulberry's Dream.” Then, after praising the Boulder Theater and the Fox Theater, he played “Fish Out of Water,” “Window in the Rain,” and “Loose Change,” which are featured on the new album Planet Anthem.
After “Loose Change” is when the comedy picked up even more. A drunk girl came up to the front of the stage and told Barber that she bought him a beer, and that she would crawl up on stage to bring it to him if he wants. Barber replied, “I don't give in to peer pressure, but if you crawl to me, I will serenade you.” She quickly obliged and crawled onstage. He said, “Pretend you're in Paris.” Barber played “Brit Pop,” and when she got to him she gave him the beer and then put on his shoe. Barber then said, “Oh, let me play a little one for that too,” and he played about one verse or 30 seconds of “Aquatic Ape.” Then, after “Reactor > the middle of “Bazaar Escape” > Reactor,” he brought up his special guest, Allen Aucoin who played for the rest of the night except for the end of the last song. He and Allen tore it up for “And the Ladies Were the Rest of the Night > My Lady Survives (which is very old) > Pilin it High.” Barber's fingers were flying across the guitar for “Pilin it High.” Then he played something that I don't think was a song called, “Lost Control” and stopped to say “This wasn't a song. I'm just playin a jingle. Take that Simon Posford.” The crowd got a chuckle, and then he went onto “Digital Buddha > Soldier > Spraypaint > Rockafella.” It was one long set, but a very nice touch to end an insane weekend. Barber played three encores that the fans just ate up. It was “Big Wrecking Ball > Barfly > Kitchen Mitts.” Aucoin walked off for the latter and let Barber tie it up himself. All in all, it was a treat for the die hard Bisco fans, and it was obvious that Barber really enjoyed himself throughout the show.
This run was one of my favorite experiences that I have ever had. The Disco Biscuits clearly proved a lot to me and many others. Their surge throughout the music community lately is well deserved. They have been touring machines, and everything from their lights to their sound has evolved into one of the best live acts one can see today. I can't wait until you guys come back!