The Disco Biscuits, Fuji Rock, Niigata, Japan – 7/26
Lets start with a paradox, one commonly heard and accepted: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
There he was (a few pounds heavier?), crazy-green New York Yankees cap perched on his head, beard, still the beard, and then the grin and that enthusiasm, like a golden lab greeting his best human friend, Whats Up, Fuji Rock
Itd been seven years since Id last seen this jovial spirit from New York City, and that meeting had taken place in with a sleepy, small crowd on a weeknight in early October in a dusty, beautiful old theater in the desert of Arizona.
It was the end of a five-night West Coast run, one where me and my buddy Dan had followed the Disco Biscuits from San Francisco, down the coast of California to Solana Beach (outside San Diego) and then over for a couple of desert shows in Phoenix and Tucson. And it was the last time I really did go on a music run, something I did with regularity between 1999 and 2002.
So how could Iand he, and the rest of the band and crewbe here? In these misty, soggy, muddy mountains in central Japan, on the big island as we sometimes joke around here, seven years later, still intact, still the same, yet different?
It all makes a strange sort of sense, but only if you can accept that the truth often lay in paradox, which is why when searched for on yahoo.com, the phrase the more things change, the more they stay the same brings up an incredible 134 million hits, and on the first page alone you get hits from Ralph Naders site, a blog about the situation in Israel, an article from the Wall Street Journal about the US political situation, and some other nonsense that Ill stop boring you with.
The point of the matter was that when I found myself standing directly in front of the stage on that muddy, rocky (yet thankfully flat) ground in front of the Field of Heaven stage on Sunday, July 26th at one of the two big summer music festivals in Japan, waiting for the beginning of a promised 3-hour show (no set break? I didnt know, but one could hope!), I felt positively elated.
Elated because here they were, still intact after all these years, and from the sounds of the recent shows Id downloaded, sounding as exciting as ever, and with a whole new crop of songs! How could this not be one of the coolest nights of my summer?
Before we get into the show, though, lets set the scene. Fuji Rock is located nowhere near Mount Fuji and the only rocks are the aforementioned ones on the ground that perhaps are meant to soak up some of the inevitable mud. Inevitable because the festival is held near the end of the rainy season and this year, there has been no end. But it is in a beautiful area, a reasonably flat, forested area on the side of a mountain with a lovely little creek running through it. Its not a huge hassle to get to from Tokyo, nor from my home in Takasaki, located about 40 minutes from Tokyo by bullet train or a bit under two hours by a local train. It took me and my friend, a Bisco virgin from New Zealand, a bit less than 4 hours to get to the venue from home, and it was a fast 4 hours as we enjoyed conversations ranging from Peak Oil and McKenna to friendships and festivals. Nothing like riding a relatively uncrowded train through the Japanese mountains…
But I digress. We arrived around noon and after pitching our tent, checked out some of the warm up acts. We particularly enjoyed the Canada electronic outfit Holy Fuck, and it was only after the show that I learned they are on a bill with the Biscuits this upcoming Halloween.
Our day was a bit dampened by a few thingsrain and mud played a small role, but it was mostly the crowds, which made it hard to walk from stage to stage, especially if you got caught going against the herd. And those bathroom lines (forest, here we come)!
But overall it was a fun afternoon, and I probably talked my friends ear off, mostly about the Biscuits and the various memories I have of seeing themthe 1999 Arcata show in the redwoods where they played an almost 30 minute House Dawg Party Favor to a crowd of less than 100 in a sushi bar; the Las Vegas Fall 2000 openers, where the nights ended in a post-show party in a high rollers suite at New York, New York; the Halloween mini-run in the Northwest in the fall of 2001, where they played stellar jams to movies as different as Alice and Wonderland and Run, Lola, Run. Or what of that magical October night at the Great American Music Hall in San Francis
Oh, stop already. As we waited in front of the stage with Magner and crew out working with the sound and equipment, I tried to count how many memories I made with the Biscuits and figured it was in the 20s. I only made it back East once, for the New Years run in 2000-01, and due to a blizzard and the flu for my crew, determined Id stick closer to home. Part of the reason, too, was that following the Biscuits was always a multi-faceted formulaby day, drive around the great American west, seeing the natural wonders, evenings with the Biscuits, and then usually camping somewhere. Bisco and Nature, what better? I didnt have the connections or knowledge of the East Coast to figure out how to pull that off there and then life interceded before I could even try.
Anyway, all that changed when I met the woman who is now my wife and mother of my crazy-fun 4-year-old son, Oliver, in early 2002. I think I knew my times chasing the Bisco dragon around were limited, so I really did make the most of that fall 2002 run. And when it was over, who knew when Id next see the boys?
So lets get back to the present. To be perfectly honest, when I moved to Japan in the summer of 2004, there were about three years where I didnt really follow the BiscuitsI was too busy immersed in my new adventures. I knew when the time was right, theyd be back in my life.
And so here they were. But look at how theyve changed! Well, not so much them, they looked much the same, if not a bit older.
Well okay, there were some changes. First, stage equipment (welcome to the modern eracomputers and other gadgets!). Second, the setlist: Of the 18 songs they played in that three-hour marathon, only 6 of them were tunes Id seen performed before. This didnt bother me in the slightest; these new tunes are really Bisco classics to my ear. Third, was the Barber actually jumping around? Now, memorys a tricky thing and Ive done more than my fair share of damage, but I dont recall the otherworldly guitarist bouncing like Tigger before. Brownie, of course, but Barber? Fourth, the banter, where was it? Only later did I realize that due to the language barrier the boys were keeping the banter to a minimum (though, Brownie did give us a treat in the middle of 42 after the lyric about remembering his dreamI wonder, what was that fucked-up dream at the hotel?) And last, did I mention the drummer?
Now let me be straight. I loved Sammy [Altman]. I mean, I really loved Sammy. To me, he was the John Bonham of the jamband scenea man who played with power and technique and then after the show, was friendly as an Ewok. Okay bad simile; sue me. Lets just say the few times I had the pleasure of conversing with the Professor, he was always a really soft-spoken, nice guy.
So if the Biscuits had anything to prove to me, it was this new kid Allen Aucoin. Okay, he didnt have to do much convincing. Id heard enough shows in the past few years to know he was also good. But would his rhythms get my boogie-shoes grooving, or not?
Consider me and my tired legs convinced. I came away from that show with a lot of impressed impressionsbut perhaps most of all was my respect for Allen Aucoin. How can a human being keep at it like that for three hours?
Ive hardly even mentioned the crowd, but lets just describe it as a blissed-out, boogie crew, mostly Japanese and a few gaijin, and it didnt take too long for it to start to get its groove on. It wasnt as communal or circular as some of the dancing Ive experienced at West Coast shows, but people were getting into it and there were plenty of freaks in costumes (favorite: a kid with USA red-white-and-blue glasses and a hat that read I love Bisco!). And the love was being shared; of course there was lots of smiling and high fives and such, but there were also occasional shots of tequila.
I cant say I slept real well that nightbut this fits well into the theme of the more things change, the more they stay the same. For even though I was sleeping on the side of a hill in Japan with a friend from New Zealand instead of in a van on a beach in California with a Seattleite, my mind was back into that zone it often entered post-Biscooverwhelmingly satisfied, introspective and most of all, grateful.
Grateful to bands like the Biscuits, not only for coming halfway across the world to play just one killer show, but for sticking at it, sticking together and creating their form of joyful celebration night after night and sharing it with the rest of us. Ive still got no idea how I found myself herehow I found this band back in early 1999, how I found myself sitting in this apartment in central Japan 10 years later with a family, how anyone of it worksbut here I am, and I can say unequivocally my life is a lot better for having found myself in this predicament.