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Reviews > Shows

Published: 2002/10/30
by Dan Greenhaus

The Disco Biscuits, Grand Cayman Ballroom, Atlantic City & The Vanderbilt, Plainview, NY 10/25 & 26

Grand Cayman Ballroom, 10/25

You have to admit, its an intriguing idea, to say the least. In Phish's
later years, they abandoned the "setlist", instead, choosing to go on stage
armed with only the first, and maybe, the second song, letting the energy of
the crowd and the band dictate what songs would be played when. This, of
course, led to some amazing moments on stage, but at the same time, led to
some very, very peculiar (aka: Bad) song calls. This is, of course, the
burden of improvisation, as not everything is always going to work out. But
when The Disco Biscuits announced that they would be playing a completely
spontaneous set in Atlantic City, dictated over the course of the show by a
roulette wheel, many fans were thrilled to hear that their favorite band
taking what Phish had previously done to the very, very next level.

The Grand Cayman Ballroom is exactly what you would expect when a venue is
named "so and so Ballroom." A huge wide room with tons of room to spare, it
fit the diverse Biscuits crowd very comfortably, further helped by the wall
to wall carpet. The stage was at the end of the long room, set up in
standard fashion, except there were two upright wheels at the right of the
stage, just behind where keyboardist Aron Magner sets up. It was quickly
apparent to everyone present that the two wheels were going to serve
different purposes, as the left wheel contained many of the bands "regular"
songs (if they have such a thing), while the wheel on the right, containing
less songs, featured most of the band's "heavy hitters", with the noticeable
exception of a song or two the band played the night before.

The band took the stage to a rousing ovation around 9:40 or so, and without
a word, the first fan spun the wheel, landing on "House Dog Party Favor",
eliciting huge, HUGE smiles from the band. Clearly, this night had the
makings of what could be a very, very special show. After a run through the
song, landing in a jam, the wheel was spun again, landing on "Above the
Waves, " a challenge appreciated by the band and crowd alike. It is here that I
must mention, it is NOT easy in any fashion to jam one song into another.
Songs, if you don't know, are written in keys, and for the most part, most
songs can't just "go into" another, as they could feature many differences,
from key to tempo, that would make it nearly impossible. And for any member
of the band, this presented the biggest problem to bassist Marc Brownstein
and drummer Sam Altman, as they would be the ones to make the biggest
changes. If they weren't able to segue on the fly, the jam simply wouldn't
happen. However, over the course of the night, the Biscuits, showcasing a
patience they've been working years to attain, were able to do it almost in
every case. And the segue into the inverted Above the Waves was a perfect
example. When the song came up on the wheel, the band was nowhere near
sounding like "Waves". But after some brief eye contact, and years of
practice, the band was able to make the move to "Waves", highlighted by
Brownie's transition. The wheel was spun again, and "Home Again" came up
and it was at this point, three songs in, that everyone, the band included,
began to wonder if the night could produce better luck than we were
currently having. Of course, we had no idea how the rest of the first set
would play out.

Stopping after "Home Again", the band and everyone needed a quick breather,
before spinning again. Landing on the newest Magner song, "Digital Buddha",
the band launched into a fantastic jam, which segued, without the wheel,
into the ending of "House Dog", before returning to finish "Buddha". The
set definitely could've ended there, but the band gave us icing on the cake
in the form of "Shelby Rose", and while it featured no segues, it was a
fantastic version to a fantastic set of music. You couldn't ask for
anything better given the circumstances.

The second set was another story entirely. After the opener of "King of the
World", the wheel was spun, landing right in the exact middle of "Sound 1"
and "Kitchen Mitts". The band thought it was "Sound 1" and actually went
into it, however, upon further review, "Kitchen Mitts" was determined to be
the song, and the band abandoned a successful jam, in exchange for a slower
song that didn't seem to fit as well. However, another spin produced
"Nughuffer", perhaps the most desired Biscuits song, and the band produced
an inverted version for the books, even if the entry jam went on slightly
too long. Another spin towards the end of the jam came up on a Skull and
Crossbones, which the band used to play "Marvelous", a song played only one
other time before, and, in contrast to "Nughuffer", may be the least
anticipated Biscuits song. Taking the steam out of the set, the song, while
light years ahead of the only other live version, was not what was needed.
Another spin gave us EXACTLY what was needed: "Save the Robots".

After some work, "Robots" has returned to the bands regular rotation, and
has leap frogged to the top of the song list. The band nails it fairly
regularly now, despite its many changes and difficult passages, while it
features a dark, deep jam the band uses to explore the nether-regions of the
universe. After stopping, one more spin gave us a poor set-closer of
"Jamilia", but as Brownie humorously put it later in the night, "You cannot
defy the wheel!!".

Encoring with "Crickets", the ten minute version was really too short due to
time constraints. The band finished the song with the lights on in the
Ballroom, but still produced a nice cap on the night. 1:35 rolled around
and everyone inside the room filtered out into the Casino and the rainy
Friday night to do as they pleased. A fantastic first set was balanced by a
hit or miss second set. However, the Biscuits blazed a trail on this night. Some segues were easy, some were hard, but nobody can deny one
thing: The band came to Atlantic City and they took the biggest gamble of anyone.

The Vanderbilt, 10/26

The Vanderbilt has always been a favorite venue for both The Disco Biscuits,
and fans. Its a nice cozy venue right off the Long Island Expressway in
Plainview, that features two very big bars, unobstructed views of the stage
all around, and some real nice sound. Last time the band was here in mid
April for two shows, they immediately warmed up the venue with the infamous
"Jigman" from 4/14, a jam they equaled with an all around great show the
next night. Their return to the Vandy was made even better, by the
scheduling the night before in Atlantic City, two shows many east coasters
would be attending in tandem. And upon my entry to the venue, it was
immediately apparent that many of the people I'd seen and met from the night
before had indeed made the drive to Long Island. It was also quickly
apparent that the median age of the fanbase had dropped significantly from
Atlantic City. This, of course, is nothing unusual with shows on Long
Island, especially shows on the weekend. That being said, it was an
enthusiastic crowd, as many of the younger fans I spoke with had only seen
the band one other time, if at all, and were quite excited to see what all
the fuss was about.

They were not disappointed.

The show opener of "Sound 1" was, in hindsight, seen coming from a mile
away. The night before, there had been some confusion as to whether the
roulette wheel had landed on "Sound 1" or "Kitchen Mitts", the former of
which was teased, the latter of which was played. As soon as the song
begun, everyone I had been to the prior show with just looked around giving
the "obviously" look. A great version of the song followed, culminating
with a segue into the ending of "Little Betty Boop". The jam then continued
until falling into "Truckers Choice". Still a new song, "Truckers" has won
many fans over with its addictive lyric, "We just came for the chicks." The
outro jam was nice, before going perfectly into the beginning of "Boop",
completing the dyslexic version, much to the crowds delight. It was at this
point, that the band laid back and produced the best jam of the night.

Exiting "Boop", the band took it all the way down without stopping, allowing
them to build from the bottom up. Marc settled in to a thumping bassline,
joining with Sam Altman's quiet but efficient play on the snare. Noodling
on top was Jon Guttwillig's trademark mellow, un-distorted notes, as Aron
Magner was given the room he needed to effectively take the band as far into
a trance jam they could go. The inevitable result was a segue into "Rock
Candy", which, while very good, paled in comparison to the entry jam. "The
Very Moon—>Grass in Green" closed the set and the jam in the latter song
featured some fantastic interplay between Barber and Magner, building the
jam before returning to the chorus.

There is no other way to describe the second set, other than that the band
put on a clinic. Opening with "7-11", the band moved seamlessly though an
intricate jam that eventually became an inverted version of "The Overture",
perhaps one of the most ambitious songs in the band's catalog. The outro
jam moved very nicely into crowd favorite "Triumph". The jam took a little
while to get going as the band tried to find their spots, however once they
settled in, they really let go, letting the jam build and build until
literally exploding, in a musical orgasm of sorts, into "Basis for a Day",
easily topping the version of the song from 4/15 at the same venue that
closed the second set. "M.E.M.P.H.I.S." followed, and swallowed the ending
of "7-11", which began the set. Unfortunately, the band didn't leave
themselves enough time to fully explore the set closer, as "MEMPHIS"
features two separate jams. Nonetheless, the version was great, featuring
some real rocking by the band.

The encore of "Crystal Ball" was a mere formality, as less than ten minutes
was left for the band. Occasionally, the band doesn't leave themselves
sufficient time for an encore, as was the case from the night before, and I
would've rather seen them really let loose on the set closer, instead of
just playing an encore because that is what is expecting. I'm not saying
that's always the case, but less than ten minutes for an encore isn't enough
for this band, in my opinion. Nevertheless, "Ball" has used 2002 to become
a crowd favorite after its "hiatus" and the encore sent everyone home with a
smile.

The Biscuits returned to Long Island's Vanderbilt in a Triumphant way. The
band continuously evolves and takes chances in the style of a true
"jamband". Rather than being scared of the label, as many bands seem to do,
the Biscuits openly embrace it. Rather than using "jamming" as an excuse to
flex their musical muscles, the band jams for a purpose, and its not just to
get to the next song, they are doing everything they can, with their music,
to kick your ass.

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