Tuesday, April 11, 2017

The Disco Biscuits 4/14/02 Plainview, NY

Right now I'm listening to every Disco Biscuits show that I've seen in order. I skipped 9/7/01 Saratoga Winners as I had given it a pretty thorough listen before my wedding on 9/7/13. I'm doing three at a time so the first batch was 4/3/02 Rochester, 4/8/02 Northampton and 4/9/02 Burlington. I really enjoyed seeing these shows and listened to the tapes (burned cd's) about a million times in the early 2000's. Listening in 2017, my first impression was honestly, man these aren't very good hahaha. Of course there are great moments from each night and the Northampton show is very good as a whole but man, its incredible how much they've improved as a band! Comparing to the two shows I saw in 2016 (Cap night two and Coney Island) the growth is obvious and quite impressive. A band I already thought were at the top of their game when I started seeing them has never stopped improving or impressing me. This tour is known as a bit of a snoozer though compared to the very impressive 2001 and the excellent late summer and fall of 2002. I had never felt that way before but I guess I somewhat under stand that read today. It was just a bit shocking... I was so enamored with the band and was so pleased to be able to relive these shows.  I wasn't a truly objective listener.

The next batch of shows I saw (and am now listening to) was 4/13/02 Asbury Park, and 4/14/02-4/15/02 at the Vanderbilt in Plainview, NY. Now is my turn to be shocked in a positive way. The Asbury Park show was excellent. I remember at the time not thinking that much of it and not really listening to the tapes too much afterwards. I very much associate Spectacle  and the Tunnel with my early Disco Biscuits experiences. They opened each set with commanding performances of these powerful songs. Hearing the Coney Island version of Spectacle  with the Hungry March Band was a treat for me. The meat of set 1 though is the Reactor>Shelby Rose(><)>Reactor. It's very strong. It was neat to hear the original version of Pilin' it High and the House Dog Party Favor is very good as well. House dog, to me, is the definitive Disco Biscuits tune and my personal favorite. This was my first time hearing it live. set 2 has some great moments too, including a Hot Air Balloon and a Very Moon with Al Schnier from Moe. sitting in.

4/13/02 Asbury Park
The next night, in Plainview, NY, my life changed forever. I loved the Disco Biscuits before this show. I went from casually listening to them along with Phish, The Grateful Dead, String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams and any other jamband who were ripping it up at the time to seeing 6 shows in the month of April and 29 total shows in 2002.

The performance started with the Buddy Guy/ SRV version of Mary Had a Little Lamb that Barber specifically but the band as a whole, pulls off very nicely. Next up, the familiar bass line of Jane's Addiction's Three Days rumbles ominously through the club. The Biscuits covering this song is one of the things that got me interested in their music so I was very excited to hear it. From there they play a really nice, directed segue into Jigsaw Earth. It built the energy up phenomenally and got me really fired up at the time. The segue holds up really well on the 2017 listen. I'd be stoked to hear it live today. It's a rock solid version of Jigsaw that builds up an even more fiery jam. With a tremendous rush of energy they blast into I-man. Listening right now is giving me deep deep chills. At this point in the show, I knew I was seeing something special. They play I-man with beautiful dynamics, utilizing all the power the non-techno version can deliver. There is beautiful interplay between Marc and Jon as they get deeper into the jam with atmospheric support from Magner. Sammy is of course driving the ship expertly as usual.

The jam shifts keys and picks up tempo just past the 11 minute mark with Magner playing a lead line. Sammy's kick sounds so effing solid. He urges the jam forward with each fill and drop. Barber and Magner begin an interplay as Sammy picks up the tempo another big notch. They are hurtling now... but where to? Back into Jigsaw of course!!!! On the 2017 listen, the hints are definitely there, but I don't know if I knew the intricacies enough at the time to hear it coming. They are extremely locked in, energetic and playing the composition flawlessly. Sandwich segues (song A>song B>song A) are common for the biscuits but not necessarily so common for other jambands. Especially in 2002. It was pretty groundbreaking and an amazing way to control and manifest energy flow. They only briefly touched down in Jigsaw Earth. This train had other destinations in mind.

They lock into another tight groove and begin accelerating again after the Jigsaw tempo drop. More dynamic interplay between Magner and Barber is held rock solid by a driving and intricate bassline from Brownstein. This time Brownstein really drives the energy and direction of the segue. His line is active while still giving a solid pattern for Barber to shred over. Barber just kills this change, with melodic yet frenzied soloing which sounds absolutely amazing tone-wise thanks to his hollow-body Gibson. The drop back into I-man once again is giving me whole-body chills. On that night, at this moment, I knew I had to see this band as many times as I could. To see and feel this again. It was so incredibly creative, flitting back and forth between the two songs like this... and the band, with their inspired playing, had me in the palm of their hands. Coming out of the peak, there is a beautiful piano-driven jam that showcases the talents of all four members. A band known for deep and dirty electronic trance and drum and bass jams absolutely slays several minutes without heavy effects. When Magner does decide to play a synth line its this gorgeous shimmering bird song of a melody.

Brownstein then plays a melodic counterpoint with a subtle line from Barber, interacting as much with the drums as with the keys and bass.They strip the jam down to a very quiet back and forth between Barber and Brownstein with subtle support from Magner and Sammy. All while staying in the theme of the I-man outro jam. There is about 15 minutes of jamming in this second segment of I-man and not once does it get stale or repetitive. This dismantle and reassemble the jam several times tending towards quiet simplicity that critics of the Disco Biscuits untzyness would find very little ground to stand on with their standard critiques. The jam picks up a significant amount of fire as they begin to approach the final peak of I-man. Barber is building tension expertly with Magner choosing a piano tone again which nicely juxtaposes the ferocity of the jam. They peak it expertly, returning to the I-man composition for its resolution.

"Over it goes I'm Breaking through!"

This isn't the end though. Not the end of this segment and certainly not the end of the show. Things are stripped down to simplicity once again with an interlocking jam with all 3 melodic players contributing a part of the whole. Sammy is interacting with all the players as well, connecting with Barber as only he could. Some funky key riffs from Magner take the jam down a new path which Brownstein soon locks into in earnest. Barber finds a unique place in the mix and Sammy feeds off of everyone and pours energy into his kit. The whole band is now barreling at warp speed towards their destination. Without a mental pause or musical hiccup, they launch back into Jigsaw Earth to sing the final verse:

"I gathered myself, and rubbed my eyes, and wondered, did she know?
That I put glass and concrete beams as tall as trees can grow.
That I tear down the oldest statues, faces who've grown long
She may have known, may not have cared, continued with her song..."

I tried to gather myself and rub my eyes but there was no coming back for me. I was a goner. And it was only set break. Set two starts with some chucklicious banter from Marc about Magner being "a funny f$%king guy" and then drops into a nicely shuffling Mulberry's Dream. The band sounds comfortable and confident, no doubt feeling pretty good after that monster first segment. It's a standard reading of the piece with some nice guitar work from Jon during the jam. Next up, a standalone Story of the World gets jammed out very nicely in the middle with a funky bass line from Brownstein driving the improvisation, while Magner and Barber both contribute to its development. Sammy's rhythm pattern starts off four on the floor before moving into a more rock oriented groove. A descending synth line from Magner signals a tempo increase for the band which finds everyone interlocking nicely and building back into the story composition.

"You guys gotta take it easy at the hotel tonight. No seriously. The Disco Biscuits are low-pro".
-Marc Brownstein 

With these words of wisdom the Biscuits launch into the second major segment of the night with Frank Zappa's Pygmy Twylyte. The band launches immediately into group improv with a driving bass-line complemented by Barber interweaving with Magner's bleeps and bloops. A shift to a four on the floor beat from Sammy and a melodic synth line from Magner changes the jams direction dramatically. The band segues into the Big Happy theme which brought a huge smile to my face. I was a huge fan of 11/16/00 which interweaves The big Happy, Widow in the Rain and Pygmy to dramatic effect. This is a very interesting piece of music for the Disco Biscuits. From its seed was spawned both Highwire and I Remember When, which are still mainstays in their setlists.  A triumphant major key jam, often weaving the Big Happy Theme back in, drops effortlessly into Helicopters. The composed Helicopters jam segment is appropriately dark and driving with ethereal synth sweeps from Magner setting the mood. Things get a bit more interesting as they leave the confines of the composed jam section about 7 minutes in. They quiet way down and Barber starts to develop a riff around Marc's bass part. Magner finds room to interject and Sammy...god Sammy is a magnificent beast.

Sammy drops the kick out and comes back in twice as hard and a little faster. His kick drum tone makes both the old gods and the new cry with joy. Brownstein begins to insert the Peter Gunn Theme bassline which eventually brings the rest of the gang on board. This tune is a spring tour 2002 exclusive for them, performed only four times. I have the honor of seeing two of the four performances. Its a brief sojourn this time. A sloppy drop right into Mindless Dribble can be forgiven for the intensity of the energy shift. The room goes absolutely buck wild. After the composition, they rapidly shift into a very laid back and quiet jam with a lot of flavor, hinting at the Dribble theme more and more. Excellent and patient jamming abounds during the first Dribble jam. The sustained tension note Barber holds just before the drop back into the composition is soul rending. The 'They missed the perfume' segment has an especially calypso feel from Magner's piano line. The second jam starts at a blistering pace with Magner hinting immediately at the return of Helicopters. Barber toys with an interesting riff and everyone else plays around a bit more, not quite ready to drop into the Helicopters yet.They manage to build up a tremendous amount of momentum and energy on the way to the final Helicopters peak. Barber is calmly leading while Magner soars. The drop back in is very clean and another set of Disco Biscuits skull-f*&kery is in the books.

The Disco Biscuits encored with the fifteenth (of 144 currently) performance of Astronaut. It was played in the encore spot more often in the 2001-2002 time period then it is today. This would be the last time it was used in this slot until 2004 and would be fairly uncommon as an encore from then on. It's a mellow and stripped down version of what the song would become. Its hard not to fast-forward 8 months and think about what a different beast the Haymaker Astronaut is compared to this version. There is some interesting Sammy-driven start/stop jamming but the 9 month old tune still hasn't found its true form yet. Every note is still a grace from god though. You know this.

That night, despite Marc's warnings, I ended up in the hotel next to the Vanderbilt. I was 20 and a goofy introvert so was in no danger of going too hard but did end up borrowing some crash space on the floor of my buddy Michael's friends room. More specifically the closet floor. I'd see and get to know my hosts Kieth, Kelli, Aimee and Bernie at shows for many more years and would be reminded of being the guy passed out in the closet lolol.

We drove back the next morning (Monday) and I even made it to class. I was a sophomore at SUNY Albany that year. after class I met up with Michael and Corey (what the deal) and gushed excitedly about how good the show was we had seen the night before. One thing led to another and we ended up driving back down from Albany to Plainview to see the next night. The first of many rash decisions relating to this band I'll never forget. Or regret.

I met Jay Cowit the summer of 2002. He had met some of my best friends from high school at NYU and they formed the band Wounded Buffalo Theory.  That summer they 'rented' an apartment over the SUNY dive bar known as the Town Tavern. Vic the owner left them a keg of Busch and the keys to the bar so they could rehearse. The apartment had a hole in the ceiling with a tub full of scuzz water collecting below it. The previous tenant was freak show star and body modification legend Erik Sprague and some of his ephemera was left behind. All in all an absolutely perfect venue to launch a band as mind-warpingly excellent as WBT. It no doubt shaped their darkly prog-infused psychedelia.
I hung out at their rehearsals and struck up what would be a life-long friendship with Jay that  revolved around music. We had both been at the Vanderbilt show and it was an early bonding moment for us, discussing its greatness. Jay and I and many of our friends went on to see lots of great live music, especially many, many, Disco Biscuits shows. I've also seen Jay's band play many times and its been an honor to witness some of the incredible music they've created. Jay had just met visual artist Justin Wood, also from the NYC scene, and went to the show with him.

Here Jay's spin on 4/14/02 with artwork by Justin Wood: 

Second Show.

I got to the Vandy and was already somewhere not on earth. the whole show starts as a fake out...a single blues cover, concise and normal. The band is made of humans, you can see that...hell, the drummer even loses a stick at one point.

At the cover's conclusion, the person to the left of me screams "I have LOST my mind." I was feeling transcendent myself, but confused...What fascinating noise could take a person's mind that quickly, off something so plain and innocent?

When 3 Days begins, the feeling starts to become mutual. Blues song to Jane's Addiction cover? It makes no sense. Except it already feels like it does....which is hard to fathom. When the cover song branches out into the ethos, things begin to occur to me. Words and concepts, twisted and muddled but always spinning.

The spiral snake that follows is cunning and vicious, real and fanged...the cyclical set never lets go. It squeezes around your body like a constrictor, occasionally allowing a breath and then holding you harder. It makes you struggle to follow it's changes, like chasing a shadow. It walks gingerly and then marches like an army...the back and forth between Jigsaw Earth and I-man is confounding, circular, and difficult...even hypothetically impossible...but staggering and monolithic. Each transition bleeds the preceding song, turning it inside out; the coterminous song floods into the space, washing away the past and phasing in the future. Both songs are so unambiguously natural to the band...no other band could play either song to its full potential. Still, the band twists the innards from each song, back and forth, back and forth, and back...suffocating you, underneath the darkness of a giant spiral snake.

By the middle of the set, I was further fathoms away from understanding anything...I was confused how a band could play so many hours before a set break...I counted no fewer than 2 hours of music (it was an hour+) ..figured they'd be done after this set for sure.  No one could make more music after that...I was turned around and pulled in a million directions.

And I desperately wanted more, forever.

I've probably never had a more important musical epiphany, with regards to what live improvisation and composition could be. It changed the way I saw music. Entirely. It was a third eye opening experience....like a long time artist being introduced not just to some new kinds of paints...but an entirely different canvas format. It was a new way to see language, in the form of music.

Every note of music I've played since April 14th 2002 owes something to this show, and nearly every note of live music I've seen since then has been, in some ways, compared to this show.  Sometimes you see the face of all things in momentary glimpses...but sometimes those glimpses can last 15 years and beyond.

All photographs from the disco biscuits internet project. They have lots of pictures from earlier Disco Biscuits shows