moe./ Disco Biscuits, Aragon Ballroom, Chicago, IL- 2/3
If Lester Bangs were alive to be a jam fan in the year 2006, would there be room in this world for his cough syrup antics? No. He’d just blast Metal Machine Music and try to headbutt the nearest hippie. And he’d say nothing about the swath of commentary trying to decide if the Bisco blew moe. away at the Aragon or the other way around. Who really should’ve opened, did the sound suck more for Bisco than moe., ya da fuckin ya da?makes me tired all over, but hell I’ll tell this tale.
The Aragon might be the only venue that can be responsible in of itself for fucking up what could be a solid show. Even with the clarity Umphrey’s and Keller’s sound team generated for the New Years’ shows, enough people looked shitty and mean. The place just pisses people off. So before anything is said about the bands’ sets, understand the handicap inflicted by the large room that looks deceptively cool with its Turkish castle motif, but whines and creetches with rubbery echoes turning fine music into mush like a plywood high school gym. Now add that it’s impossible to move around and no show happens without a fight, including this one, and you get the handful of reasons why I curse any great band coming to Chicago: If you play this bane of the city’s live music scene called Aragon, may it hurt each time you screw.
Jen had not experienced the jam scene so I figured something tried and true in the form of moe. mixed with a hype that could go either way, the return of the Disco Biscuits, seemed like a good first foray. Never been a Bisco fan, but I thought why not see what they do with this new drummer. Maybe it will be idyllic and storybook-like: the band grows by dynamic leaps and bounds, producing orchestraic glorious beauty and gorgeousity. The merciless cold critic feels his heart pump with red blood again as it swells to five times its size from when the organ fed muddy grease through his soulless flesh. Nope. I suppose I’m still a black hearted bastard.
Now it could very well be the aforementioned structure of the place that led to the shrill hollers stabbing my eardrums, and as any opening band will attest you just don’t get the best sound caressing as the warmers up. But then again… The musicians of the Biscuits know how to play their instruments, perhaps too well, because they show not the slightest concern for the product of their combined furious playing. The energy was there in large doses, but listening took a hike down a canyon. Watch a musician’s body language while he or she plays in a band and you’ll know if they have any concern about the overall sound or not. In the case of the Biscuits that night, they each were transfixed on their own instruments and dancing in their respective places, except for the new guy drummer Allen Aucoin. His drumming was precise and mean, but it was near impossible to hear his impressive looking fills amidst the blare of the other instruments. Under Marc Brownstein’s overloaded bass, Jon Gutwillig’s screetchy guitar and the too-loud cries from Aron Magner’s keyboard fortress, the drumming was hard to pick up. Jen and I took the task of coming up with themes for the Biscuits’ songs. She said one song sounded like the Beverly Hills Cop theme with New Order sounding vocals on it. I thought one tune was simply some weird Goth tune, and we both agreed another tune sounded like island resort music for robots. Picture that scene.
I’d like to give Bisco a chance under better sound engineering, as my money says that was why it sounded so muddy at the Aragon. Plenty of folks got down to their energy, so someone out there digs it. For a band playing together as long as they have, new drummer or not, they have no excuse to not listen to each other. If they did, they wouldn’t be playing so many pointless extra notes
Onward to moe.
The boys from NY State left room in their renditions to build on later in their show. Plane Crash’ opened the set and got the now densely packed room moving with glee. Chuck Garvey broke a guitar string by the end of the tune, lasting just over five minutes. It Again and Again’ showed an interesting facet that maintained for most of the first set in the form of Al Schnier playing most of the lead guitar lines. During this tune his slide work added some rootin tootin snakyness, which helped the band smoothly raise and lower the dynamics. Chords from Schnier and Garvey had dark tones that put somber shades on the folksy song. Okayalright’ was done with plenty of energy, but wasn’t explosive by any measure. It was solid to hear moe. sticking to their tunes. They are one of the better songwriting bands in the scene, and it’s rare to hear them keeping things so simple, a beckoned change to their long deconstruct-then-rebuild jams.
Rolling with the hootenanny feel, Waiting for the Punchline’ sped up the pace of the set and had Jim Loughlin scratching out rhythms on the washboard. Hi and Lo’ into Moth’ closed a helluva warm up set. Chuck Garvey sang scat in tune with his guitar, a feat I can’t get sick of no matter how often it’s done. Brendan Bayliss came out for yet another chapter in the Joint moe./Umphrey’s Invasion of each other’s shows. In past events, Bayliss goaded Garvey and Schnier into some trade offs often done with Jake Cinninger, yet the moe. axers give each other more space when solos arise, so it usually fell back into two guitars playing it real safe while the other ripped. This time, the three tossed around the lead with little warning, raising the energy in a circle, all while never overpowering any other player. Rob Derhak and Vinnie Amico brought more fury out of their otherwise steady bass and drum work to blow out this set closer.
The second set started with an eerie and movable McBain.’ Magner came out on Schnier’s key rig to add some washes over the mellow tune. Loughlin’s steel drum and conga work on Lazarus’ maintained the dance feel from the opening of the set as Garvey reminded the room of his presence with some instantly intense soloing. They resumed rockin’ by jumping straight into George,’ and once again they built up the energy on the tune but chilled it out before anything real heavy happened. Just when you might wonder if you’ll be knocked out at all those familiar chords rang from Schnier’s guitar
Karma Police.’ It bring a smile to my face that emits many cynical words to see and hear however many people at the Aragon swaying and screaming those words with glee. Bullet’ destroyed the already weary room with great vengeance and furious rock anger, using what I thought was the sum of energy saved from the first set. At points the song turned deadly close into the head from Fucking in the Bushes,’ followed by Helter Skelter.’ And not a single bottle to break up in the balcony! Bollocks to the cursed plastic safety drinking gear. Derhak took the lead with some bass molestation to kick off a speedy Timmy Tucker,’ taking the teetering but still screaming crowd on an endurance run. Well over four hours since the Biscuits let out their first lick, moe. returned after many a shout and stomp to seal the deal with Godzilla.’ Of anything one can say about moe., they have an unending amount of stamina from playing long sets. Amid “goodnights,” and “thank yous,” Derhak mentioned they wanted to play longer but couldn’t, which probably meant they were given some managerial boot to cut it off. A show filled with diverse ways that moe. kicked ass
AND THE RAT BASTARDS AT THE ARAGON CUT IT SHORT!!
One more reason to fuck that place, if you needed it. See yah at Summercamp.