Peaches En Randalia #46
“Breathe in/Breathe out #1”>And it all began 10 years ago on 12/31/99 when the Disco Biscuits played along to Akira in a wonderful waltz of cinema and music. Ending the decade with a nod towards a new twist on an old form of improvisation, the experiment reminded me of my first experience with painting as a child. The teacher put on a series of classical music pieces that would either inspire or encourage our little digits to draw across the page. I remember, even very early on, that I got into the rhythm of the tunes, and sort of beat my paper with a paintbrush. I would become a drummer, of course, short-lived at that, but once a percussionist, always a percussionist. My muse was more interested in pushing my pen along paper in a literary fashion, rather than litmus tests for the visually-stimulated. But it was an important moment—the mixture of music and art.
Alas, it was only an experiment, and like the Biscuits landmark New Year’s Eve show of a decade ago, it wasn’t meant to be an end in itself, but an idea to kick start the future. The band would go through a transitional period, always innovative, but somewhat troubled in their collective muse statements over the next several years. Indeed, they lost original drummer, Sam Altman to the curse of jambands everywhere—the collegiate pull of higher education. And who could blame Sammy? The road is a terrible way to run a life. I think Robbie Robertson said that in a manner in which Martin Scorsese favored in The Last Waltz. Even Mona Lisa had the Highway Blues. I know Bob Dylan said that, and he meant it—you can almost feel the cynical weariness on her face in the painting.
“Breathe in/Breathe out #7”>Which brings us to 2009, and the end of another decade, the Aughts, if you will, and the Biscuits are still raging. Indeed, they finally headlined Red Rocks in the middle of a campaign that featured some of their most balanced and focused improvisation in many years. The transition period seemed to have solidified into a new form of career statement—the Biscuits are always evolving; their sound continues to include their trademark untz appeal, but it also features an ability to turn on a dime into a unique segued passage, bend songs inside and out until a new story is being told, and, perhaps, most importantly, a willingness to include many new references and influences from numerous sources to keep the tweakers dazed and enlightened while never looking too far back at the daunting shadow of their long and far from static, status-quoed career.
Red Rocks…Colorado…the first road trip of a band that has received their fair share of attention this year—and not quite hitting their stride in any area—Phish. The Phab Phour first ventured to Colorado for their initial jaunt away from the East Coast in 1988, and it proved to be a key moment in their own transition from geeks to jam kings. In 2009, Phish has not looked back at their own ability to combine experimentation in any form with their new artistic statements. Alas, their creativity seemed to be more focused on marketing—heady tour preview videos which sometimes backfired (Indio, anyone?),
sometimes, ingenious (Fenway), the long-delayed and artistically-disappointing Joy Box
Set, a colossal monument to mediocrity (only NEW songs on the live DVD; come on guys, going out on a limb means you need to include the whole tree, itself, as well). And yet, they provided a few moments of improvisational gold on the road in 2009 to justify their reunion. Let’s just hope they return to the table, pickup their collective paintbrush, and learn to paint along to the music again. I think the Biscuits are still doing that; perhaps on a much smaller stage, and with much less mass cultural attention, but they are attempting to find new ways to express themselves, and push that hallowed envelope. It may not always work. Hell, my initial paintings were gadawful testaments to rhythm-riddled blotches of color, but it proved I needed to follow one path, instead of another.
Sure. The Biscuits fail often, too; their new LP Planet Anthem is an ambitious mixture of sounds, produced by many, and yet allegedly containing the one (that word, again, kids and hippies, remember it because the term is the cornerstone of all group improvisation) collective voice of Messrs. Brownstein, Gutwillig, Magner, and Aucoin. We shall see. The future is uncertain. That much is clear. However, it is enough to know that the Disco Biscuits still care to experiment. And it is enough to know that others still care to listen.
Ever onwards. Bring on the 10s, and, if in doubt, choose weirdness over clarity. You’ll need that in your bag of tricks for the rest of the adventurous journey.
# – completes Peaches En Randalia #40