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Reviews > Shows

Published: 2003/07/29
by Jesse Jarnow

The Disco Biscuits, Mishawaka Amphitheater, Bellvue, CO- 7/26


The Mishawaka Amphitheater in Bellvue, Colorado was the place to see
The Disco Biscuits, according to my friends. "Prettier than Red Rocks," some
said. "Not prettier," others corrected. "Different." Either
way, it amounted to a considerable amount of hype, which unraveled itself
around the Cache La Poudre River as CO-14 gorgeously hooked its way up out
of the plains, into the Rockies, and through Poudre Canyon.

"Go to Fort Collins and make a left," I had been instructed. "When you see a
line of cars, stop. Then walk." So I did. At the end of the cars, as I had
been promised, I found what amounted to a roadhouse bar. The canyon was
exactly wide enough to contain a two-lane road, a small (though highly
elevated) stage, and the rushing river that had carved the valley itself. It
wasn't quite as naturalistic or idyllic as I imagined. If it wasn't for the
fact that there actually was a rushing river behind the stage, the
whole affair woulda been mondo tacky.

The Disco Biscuits have taken to naming their multiple night runs at venues – this was their third annual Bisco Inferno – a practice which imbues the
shows with the sense that they are Events. And, with people flying in from
across the country for Mishawaka, it's hard to disagree. Jamband fans have
long practiced a peculiar kind of tourism, tending to "know" cities not for
museums or other officially defining bits of culture, but for places to
hike, local breweries, good breakfast spots, and other destinations that be
squeezed in between shows. In seeking out spots like Mishawaka, tourheads
practice an unpoliticized patriotism: the acknowledgement that there are
places to go and sites to see.

The roadhouse at Mishawaka is a good example. There probably aren't too many
places in the country it could exist: a beautiful natural setting with the
feeling of liberation that it implies combined with a surprisingly
conservative ruggedness (hey, they served freedom fries). All in all, the
reason to see a band like The Disco Biscuits there is – theoretically – because they will make music not only completely specific, but
meaningful to that setting. With that, the stage was decked out with
a large, um, dragon, which snaked behind the band and parked its
considerable head just to the right of the stage, amidst what looked to be
an approximation of cresting white mountains. At opportune moments during
the show, the smoke machines were fired up and steam shot out its mouth and
snout. For hippie art, it was actually quite well done, though detracted
heartily from the natural beauty of the scene.

The band opened the show with "Rock Candy," a (relatively) newer song that
would be completed in the second set. It is easy to tell when The Disco
Biscuits segue into a song – there is a change in energy – but it is
frequently hard to tell what the song is. That is, the bulk of the second
set was a sequence of "Digital Buddha > 42 > Rock Candy." "42" was inverted
— the ending played first, then segued into the beginning. Given that the
song has been played just over a dozen times since it's spring debut, it was
a distinction that was likely lost on many (myself included). The result is
that unless one already knows the songs, they probably won't make an
emotional impact on him — which might be circular logic, though is
certainly a stumbling block for some listeners being able to get to that

The positive side of this is that no matter how The Disco Biscuits arrange
their setlists – beginnings first, endings in the middle, middles in the
end, or whatever – the music will invariably sound like The Disco Biscuits.
The band does their best work when they're not trying to emulate another
genre (except maybe trance), but simply communicating in their natural
language — a distinct regional dialect of jamband. It is there, when the
band is playing what is theoretically their most abstract music – not
techno, not jazz, not rock, not funk – that they are the easiest to parse.

At Mishawaka, it was a joy hearing them soar from pocket to pocket, scene to
scene: Jon Gutwillig's squiggling neo-classical guitar figures jumping atop
Aron Magner's swelling New Age keyboard frills, both riding Sam Altman's
hard and melodic cymbal work. Watching the front rows of the crowd, it was
sometimes hard to figure out how they could possibly pump their fists so
intently at songs so silly, but listening to the band's improvisation, it
was hard not to understand. Even during the show's most somnambulant moments – a positively dreamy jam out of a pleasantly sleepy "Confrontation" – they
pumped away.

In the end, the dragon was pretty cool — not for what it did specifically,
but for how it functioned. Just to the side of the stage, next to the
dragon, one could walk down some rock steps to the river's edge and sit.
With the dragon towering and the lights flashing and the crowd dancing, it
actually made the river itself feel relatively private — a small, sublime
respite amidst frenzy and chaos. It was the epitome of jamband tourism: a
perfect fusion of place and music, both of the real world and far outside of

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