The Disco Biscuits, Starland Ballroom, Sayreville, NJ- 2/15
I got a random one; what exactly is the allure of one of America’s favorite game show, say it with me now, Wheel of Fortune!? It hasn’t been on for 23 seasons just to fill up that half-hour time slot before prime-time television. I suppose most will tell you that the public tunes in to watch the beautiful Vanna White in action while observing her miraculous aging process. Or perhaps it’s the excitement of solving the word puzzle yourself from your very own living room. But let us not dare forget the most important and vital aspect to this game show, which is of course the wheel itself. Not only does it look like fun to spin but the odds and ratios frantically zipping through your head offer a pleasurable anticipation outlet. The idea of not having control over a situation has an effect and whether it’s a positive or a negative, something happens. You hope for the best while putting yourself in that contestant’s shoes when the wheel is spun. Bottom line is that it’s fun not be in control all the time and exciting not knowing what you’re going to get.
Perhaps in the tradition of this classic game show, Philadelphia’s electronica-jam quartet, the Disco Biscuits decided to add a little bit of this stimulation to their concert experienceagain. Done only once before, just under five years ago, the Biscuits had labeled that 2002 Atlantic City show the roulette set. A wheel is constructed with some of the Disco Biscuit’s oldies, newbies, staples, and classic covers and then spun to determine the evening’s set list. Not only does this make for some fantastic crowd participation but also puts the band on its toes, allowing them to show off their improvisational chops. Much as in the game, the band was no longer in control of the show, for it was the wheel that held everyone’s fate.
Returning to what has become an annual outing, the Disco Biscuits had once again taken over central Jersey’s Starland Ballroom for an entire weekend, reserving Thursday night as the roulette set. Unfortunately, these few nights fell within the three coldest weeks so far this winter making the anticipation to get inside the show that much greater (and a bit more unsettling to those caught outside in slow-moving lines). Since Thursday is technically a school night most attendees found the Ballroom to be very dance-maneuverable, as apposed to many Biscuits tour dates. Armed with only a single wheel (as opposed to AC’s pair), chock full of new material, the Disco Biscuits were ready to start off the weekend.
If it was to be the wheel that decided our fate for the evening, it was through the graces of the Biscuits , that the band’s more attractive female fan base set the fate into motion. These angel-faced beauties, each one more captivating than the next, were in charge of spinning the wheel, perhaps hand-picked by the band themselves. Bravo boys. After a song was picked, it was taken off the wheel to reveal a new song underneath which was then carried around the stage like a boxing-match round number for the band to see.
The new material highlighted in the last issue of Relix, was unleashed right away. The first of these, “Shadow“, was very reminiscent of the good old Moshi-Moshi days when original drummer Sam Altman was manning the drum kits. It was a rather nice way to kick things off and then smoothly transitioned us into “Air Song,” which is perhaps a reflection upon French super-duo Air and the influence they have had on the band. Keyboardist Aron Magner and Guitarist Jon “Barber” Gutwillig shared vocals and while it seemed not to have much complexity, the beautiful jazz-esque piano solo proved to be a breath of fresh air, no pun intended. It was proceeded by “Glastonbury” which many thought should be titled “Smash,” since bassist Marc Brownstein decided to play rock star and smash an old bass right on stage. Shortly after, came a blast from the past with “Down to the Bottom.” Only half the crowd really seemed to recognize the song when the wheel landed on it but a gleeful cheer did ensue. “Down to the Bottom” started off very slow and funky, as Barber threw in a few blues riffs right before a quick transition that opened up a jam section that realized its excellent potential.
The first major crowd pleaser came at the end of set one when a woman dressed in what looked like a mini sailor suit and braids landed the wheel on “Crickets.” This rather upbeat version of the song contained some of the e-drums that foreshadowed what was to follow in the show. Allen Aucoin has a tendency to make himself heard but not seen as he is usually hidden behind his drum kit of his but for this version, he briefly stepped out of his own shadow, pushing his hands in the air to simulate cricket splats. Most everyone hoped for set one to continue (particularly those who had entered the venue late due to the excruciatingly slow passage through the security checkpoints outside) but that energy would have to await round two.
Cigarette. Urination. Drink. Cigarette. Reacquaint. Analyze. Drink.
The set two opener was decided upon the only guest spinner with testicles, as a young boy, no older than ten years old, landed on “Robots.” This offering, which was played in its entirety, contained some of the heavier jams of the night. The loudest cheers came after the pointer fell off the wheel and landed on Frank Zappa’s “Pygmy Twylyte.” A song that was in heavy rotation for years but seemed to fall off the map over the past few, put smiles on all the kiddies’ faces while this particular version offered plenty of wha-pedaling. Next, we were treated to what many thought would never be resurrected from the archives, “Gangster,” of Office Space fame, which had been perverted into Bisco format and played just once on a New Years run in 02’ (it appears on the Transfusion Radio 02 live release. The e-drums were in full effect and the entire band seemed pleased that this was what fate had in store for everyone. A pretty standard “Pat and Dex” was to follow, before giving way to “Mr. Don.”
“The Mario Star Jam” acted as “Spin the Wheel” music the entire night but then things turned interesting as Barber and Brownstein both departed the stage, leaving drums and keyboard, the genetic components of side-project Moshi-Moshi which consisted of original drummer Sam Altman and Magner on keys. Labeled on the set list as “Moshi Fameus,“ this section of the night produced the most transfusion as Magner touched upon an array of sounds and noise. Brownstein, himself, then spun the wheel next and deliberately made it land on “Onamae Wa,” one of just a few Sam Altman originals (and one that the group had not revisited since his departure). Played with just a small amount of intensity, the song was followed by a shout-out to Altman and ended the set.
Upon the group’s return, the wheel was put on the backburner as the band decided what to play next. If it wasn’t the night of fresh material before, the Biscuits now made sure it was. The audience’s fate was now in the hands of the band, and they responded with three new songs in a row (“Sweat Box,” “Minions” and “Rockafella”) that perhaps brought them back to where they felt they needed to be. Overall, some lows, some highs, but again, that’s what you get when you take a gamble.