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Published: 2001/12/31
by Jesse Jarnow

‘From the Touring Desk:’ The Disco Biscuits, Palladium, Worcester & Roseland, NYC- 12/28 & 29


Funny Cry Happy

Brooklyn, New York

Gabba gabba hey.

It's good to know that there is still a band out there who can pull it off
when the stakes are high. Maybe they're stark raving egomaniacs, maybe they
thrive on harems of groupies, maybe they just like seeing waves of energy
roll over crowds bouncing beneath the lights, but The Disco Biscuits ooze a
strange confidence from atop big stages. From the moment they stepped on
stage at the Palladium in Worcester, Massachusetts on December 28th – the
second date of their five-show New Year's Run – The Disco Biscuits were
painting in broadly dynamic strokes, the kind of which were almost entirely
absent from the low-key opener in Maryland.

Again, the band continuously pulled songs off of their A-list and shoved
them into the spotlight. In Worcester, these included the Jigsaw
Earth opener,(with Sound 1 wedged in the middle), the first half
of a Munchkin Invasion in the middle of a second set, which also
included And The Ladies. At Roseland, on the evening of the 29th, the
setlist was comprised almost entirely of the band's centerpiece tunes – including 7-11, Spacebirdmatingcall, MEMPHIS, Crickets, and House
Dog Party Favor – leaving many to wonder what they might save (or
repeat) for the final two shows at Philadelphia's Electric Factory.

Like many bands, The Disco Biscuits' songbook contains certain songs that
are nearly guaranteed to split open on a given night (such as Phish's
Tweezer or The Grateful Dead’s Dark Star). At least in terms
of the historical precedence set by those two bands, many groups early on
establish several warhorses that build historical reputations over the
course of the bands' careers, occasionally introducing new epics. The
Biscuits' songbook is in a perpetual flux.

For example, Basis For A Day was, at one point, the band's signature
number, using it to highlight significant shows (such as the "Akira" score
on New Year's Eve 1999-2000). Since then, the song has fallen from grace to
some degree, while remaining occasionally potent. 7-11, which
provided the first peaks of the Roseland show, began life in March 2000 as a
troubled and downright breakup number ("girl, I even wrote a rock opera for
you, but it wasn't enough…") whose surprisingly powerful "gonna date those
bitches" chorus proved too emotionally raw for the band. The chorus
disappeared by the third or fourth version. The song itself disappeared
shortly thereafter.

In the summer of 2001, the band debuted a new song with an oddly familiar
hook. It was another breakup song, rendered in neat poetics ("flakes of gold
and fallen rubies were never enough"), and it eventually wound its way into
the same thrashing chorus the band had last played in the spring of 2000. It
was far more mature, though less direct. Even the revised chorus – replacing
the first draft's "bitches" with a more adult (and dull) "brand new mission" – reflected something changed. The song's sentiment, and the spirit of the
revision, are about second looks. It is the kind of work that more bands
should be doing, the focusing of an emotion and thought over time.

The song's placement, as the first big number of the all-important New York
City show, reflects the band's work on it — but also made it a bit of an
enigma. Another aspect of The Disco Biscuits' work as a self-conscious
jamband is the emphasis they place on the way their repertoire interacts
with the improvisation, certain songs becoming symbolic of certain time
periods or aesthetic approaches.

No where has this been more apparent than in their choice of New Years'
songs — the tunes played as the clocks struck midnight on December 31st.
Traditionally, it has been the song that has somehow been most
representative of the band's growth in the year — Helicopters in
1998, House Dog Party Favor in 1999, Munchkin Invasion fused
with Hope in 2000. Much recent discussion has centered around
what song might take center stage this year, with the band rounding down
candidates during a (theoretically) no-repeats tour. As the Roseland show
wore on, though, and the band ticked off numbers, hot contenders began to
disappear from the list, including the much-favored
Spacebirdmatingcall and 7-11. The popular favorite, at the
moment, is Reactor — with many wondering what songs will populate
the next two nights.

All of which is complete and utter bullshit if one has never heard the music
of The Disco Biscuits before. With multiple high-profile, large venue gigs,
it is inevitable (not to mention logical) that good portions of the crowd is
only recently getting into the band's music — in which case, all that
matters is the music itself. Watched in profile, the crowd often resembled a
sound pulse shot through a wire — hell, through a guitar string. The band
played their string masterfully, composing an elegant fugue that wove
together various strands of insider setlist semantics and twisted dance
floor elegance.

The band's deep-thump arrangement of Run Like Hell is always a good
bet in large rooms — a familiar cover writ large. The Roseland performance
proved no exception, as the crowd erupted as soon as the band crashed into
the familiarly bright major key changes. The band milked each verse to a
gigantic peak before swiftly, gently, and gorgeously dropping the jam
into perfect minimalism — a move that the crowd followed without batting a
collective third eye. Gabba gabba hey.

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