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Published: 2005/01/14
by Mike Greenhaus

The Disco Biscuits, Electric Factory, Philadelphia, PA- 12/30Hammerstein Ballroom, NYC- 12/31

Note: This Article Was Submitted before the January 10th Announcement that Altman would perform with The Disco Biscuits at the Starland Ballroom in March

And, in the end, The Disco Biscuits ended up bigger than ever been before. As the group’s yearlong semi-hiatus came to a close, and drummer Sam Altman’s impending departure came to a head, The Disco Biscuits rose to their rock-star potential: selling out lauded venues well in advance and reminding fans that the word Bisco was intended as a noun, not an adjective.

A five-night, four city, jaunt across the Northeast, The Disco Biscuits’ first real outing since last January featured a mix of lost-favorites ("Haleakala Crater" in Albany) and setlist staples stretched to their breaking points (pretty much all of set-three in New York). Anything but static entertainers, the trance-fusion pioneers played like two completely different bands in Philadelphia and New York: performing as a sped up jamband on December 30 and playing like a techno arena-rock band on December 31. Yet, thematically, The Disco Biscuits tied both of their shows together by playing large and tight—-and, of course, by sprinkling their trademark "Mindless Dribble" across both shows.

Since their inception a decade ago, The Disco Biscuits have nurtured one of jamnation’s most dedicated fan bases. Speaking their own language, The Disco Biscuits possess a Pharmer’s Almanac-allure, with enough built in cinematics and an extensive enough canon to draw fans in—-_really in_—- to their little world. Spread thin across a handful of side projects, over the past twelve months The Disco Biscuits seemed removed from their rock-star allure, relying on a handful of live-favorites when they did perform as a quartet. And taken out of context, as the group’s sonically tight but muffled Georgetown performance proved, The Disco Biscuits sound dark and overtly muscular. In contrast, while certainly not The Disco Biscuits’ best performance this year, the group’s December 30th concert still felt like a real Biscuits show, a single performance in a giant, sonic puzzle. In recent years, seeing the Biscuits in graffiti-covered Electric Factory has become somewhat akin to seeing the Grateful Dead perform at the Fillmore: it’s their home base, a familiar stomping ground in which the band feels confident and its audience feels comfortable. A fitting pen ultimate stop, Kicking off at 10:00 PM, and finishing up close to 2 AM, The Disco Biscuits rightfully assumed fans were attending multiple shows, completing versions of "7-11" and "42," faking-out "Save the Robots," and leaving "Mindless Dribble" unfinished for the following night. In between "Dribble" and "Above the Waves," The Disco Biscuits also inserted "Sweating Bullets," an instrumental novelty debuted during the group’s over the top Battle of the Bands last New Year’s.

With Altman’s medical ambitions now out in the open, the future of The Disco Biscuits seems somewhat fuzzy. Except for a brief thank you for the past ten years’ before their encore, The Disco Biscuits remained mum about their future plans and, if in fact, they still plan on replacing Altman. Clearly questioning their future as a single unit, usual Philadelphia guests like percussionist Mike Greenfield were conspicuously absent from the stage. Instead, The Disco Biscuits offered a relatively straightforward (by Biscuits standards) set, playing more like a rock-based jamband than the legion of electronic jambands they helped inspire. But, throughout their set, The Disco Biscuits shifted away from their trance-fusion roots, at times muffling Aron Magner’s techno keyboard touches in favor of slightly bluesy solos courtesy of guitarist Jon Gutwillig. When the group did dip into dance music, The Disco Biscuits shifted towards huskier drum and bass territories, instead of the slinky trance originally associated with their sound.

A night later, The Disco Biscuits found themselves in the heart of New York City, playing to a sold-out audience at Hammerstein Ballroom. More than any night in recent memory, New York’s jamband community seemed divided, with fans forced to choose between the Biscuits, String Cheese Incident, Particle, Wilco/Flaming Lips, Gov’t Mule, Zen Tricksters, the Samples and a parade of non-musical activities. Further proof that The Disco Biscuits community is alive and well, the lines outside Hammerstein Ballroom stretched several city blocks, forcing a horde of fans to weather global warming while The Disco Biscuits launched into "I Remember When." With tickets selling out in advance, the Friday evening show served as a fitting swan song for Altman, as fans hung a sign reading "We’ll Miss You Sammy" over the Hammerstein Ballroom’s mezzanine. In lieu of a New Years spectacle, as is Bisco custom, the group weaved a continuous New Year’s theme into their second set, counting down 2005 with a confetti-bolstered "Save the Robots" and inserting "Happy New Year’s" lyrics into "Helicopters." Clocking in at over an hour, the group’s three-song third set stretched cuts like "Magellan," "Frog Legs" and "Crickets" to new limits.

An unexpected highlight arrived at the start of the group’s second set, during an epic, extended take on Marc Brownstein’s "Home Again." Though Brownstein originally penned "Home Again" for his then-girlfriend during his six-month estrangement from the Biscuits, the bassist’s most tender number has come to represent Bisco: the destination one reaches during the group’s musical peaks. So, arriving in the middle of what now stands as the final stateside performance by the original Disco Biscuits, "Home Again" signaled a return to form after at least two years of collective soul searching. And, before slipping into an equally entertaining "Crickets," The Disco Biscuits offered their evening’s thesis: "Never Hade a Home Like This and the Prophets Said Be careful What You Wish."

At times, The Disco Biscuit’s Hammerstein performance seemed strangely reminiscent of the final scene from End of Century, a recent documentary tracking the Ramones’ turbulent career. Like that group of punk pioneers, The Disco Biscuits are, in reality, a working band who have attracted rock-star allure through their blue collar touring patterns and surface level bad-boy imagery. Like the Ramones, The Disco Biscuits have changed the face of music, making electronica and trance essential ingredients in the jamband palette without really ever getting the recognition they so justly deserve. Without The Disco Biscuits, Squarepusher, Amon Tobin, and, perhaps even post-modern indie-experimentalists like the Flaming Lips, would seem out of place in the same sentence as the word jamband. And, as the Flaming Lips simultaneously performed – literally across the street at Madison Square Garden – one couldn’t help but notice that jam-nation’s widening vocabulary stole a handful of aging/maturing jamband fans who cut their teeth on bands like The Disco Biscuits. So, it would only seem fitting, The Disco Biscuits to conclude this stage in their career, not with a dramatic goodbye, but instead with a quiet bow and partingof-the- ways in front of one of their largest audiences to date. Bringing their holiday run full circle, The Disco Biscuits closed with "Hope," the number they opened with five shows, and four cities, earlier. One can only hope that, like the Ramones, The Disco Biscuits will decide to truck-on well past the end of last century.

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