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Published: 2002/08/22
by Jesse Jarnow

The Disco Biscuits, Central Park Summerstage, NYC- 8/16

NYC ROLL-TOP: Epic Novellas

In the beginning, there were no jambands. Then Phish came along. And there
were still no jambands. And moe. and Strangefolk and Moon Boot Lover and
Yolk and the Ominous Seapods. Still no jambands. At first, they were just a
bunch of bands that blended styles with abandon, but still (mostly) managed
to do it in the context of rock and roll. Then, there were jambands. I don't
know precisely when it happened, but there was a change in the beat, a
rhythmic shifting. And then there were bands like the Disco Biscuits, who
are most assuredly a jamband.

On Friday, August 16th, they played their biggest Manhattan show to date, in
front of a large crowd at Central Park's Rumsey Playfield. John Scofield and
Soulive opened. People danced. The Disco Biscuits came on and more people
danced. The band played an inventive and accessible set, albeit without many
of the pyrotechnics that usually accompany their New York appearances. In
many ways, it felt very much a warm-up for the band's Camp Bisco, to be held
in Pennsylvania on August 23rd and 24th, where the band will get two sets a
night to stretch out.

With the exception of the show opening "Spectacle", which was unfortunately
rushed, the band showed a decent amount of patience in improvisations, which
continue to move further away from the electronic influence the band has
come to be known for.

The common denominator between the old Biscuits' music and the new Biscuits'
music is a propensity for epics. This grows out of their sense of pacing,
and is precisely why one can call them a jamband without fear of
repercussions. A novel and a short story are written with very different
scopes in mind. They deal with different kinds of issues. A short story
looks inward at a pearl of an idea; a novel focuses its gaze on something
sweeping. They are approaches that can be felt in just about every word of
the stories, in each bone of their structures. If a band has even the
slightest inclination of improvising, really improving, this is how
it manifests itself.

And though there have been very few great jamband "novels" yet, that's
basically what many of these bands are addressing. The Disco Biscuits have
been very good about tailoring their songwriting to this approach.

Take "Helicopters", for example, which segued out of "Rock Candy" at Central
Park. The "song" is basically no more than two riffs — an intro and a
verse. As a song in the proper sense, it's kind of lame, which is perhaps
why the Biscuits have never properly released it on a studio album. But it's
also absolutely perfect in the live setting. They're great riffs that still
get me every time. Both themes are rhythmically coiled, intended to be
unwound. When they reach their conclusions, the logical thing to follow them
with is something big sounding. The Disco Biscuits can arrange their sets
around these touchstones and usually do. The modulating segue into
"Helicopters" out of "Rock Candy" at Central Park was stunning.

The other approach the Biscuits take is that of the literal epic itself, on
songs like "Magellan" and "Hope" (both of which made appearances at
Summerstage). The songs deal with broad, sweeping topics: adventure on the
high seas and, well, hope. They are classical, romantic topics — and ones
that have more than a little potential for pomposity. When played right,
though, they are songs that are hard to resist if one has the slightest
predilection towards that kind of music.

But, yes, it is an approach that turns up in the band's beats, in their
pacing. "Widow In The Rain", performed near the end of the set, is a good
example of this. The song, by itself, is a bit of a melancholy, plodding
thing. It's languid, except for the fact that the Disco Biscuits are
incapable of playing a languid song. To remedy this, they inserted "the Big
Happy" – an upbeat instrumental theme, used in several places on 2001's
They Missed The Perfume – to counter it. The opposition between the
sections was kind of ridiculous, and it effectively obliterated "Widow In
The Rain"'s attempt at quietude, but it also gave the band the necessary
momentum to shoot out into a jam, which built and moved towards – you
guessed it – the "Helicopters" riff (and, eventually, the song's ending). It
spiraled, and it ended.

Jesse Jarnow sails tonight

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