July 31, Aug. 1 & 2
By Lee Abraham
Even when they're not going anywhere, the Disco Biscuits are moving in new directions. Held hostage by a dead transmission during a scheduled two-day run at Legends, the Biscuit's transformed adversity into opportunity by adding a 3rd show to their Las Vegas debut. They also enjoyed an extended dose of neon city madness, giving the band time to hang out with many of their friends and fans, some of whom traveled hundreds of miles for the shows.
Since releasing their current CD, "Uncivilized Area," on the jam band label, Hydrophonics Records, the Biscuits have developed their "Trance-Fusion" sound far beyond the early experimentations found on the album. "That's because we didn't know how to really do it then," says Jon Gutwillig, guitarist/lead vocalist, between sets on Friday. "We've been figuring it out and now it's something different than it was then."
"Uncivilized Area" succeeds in showcasing the Biscuit's dazzling musicianship and solid songwriting, but there are only hints of the direction the band is moving in, and nothing to fully prepare a listener for their current live sound. The new and improved Trance-Fusion was introduced to Las Vegas with Friday's opener, a transmutated, mind-altering version of the Pink Floyd classic, "Run Like Hell." Harnessed to a frenetic tempo, the Biscuit's "2001, a Space Oddity" approach created an ambience somewhere between the futuristic synth-space of "Kraftwerk" and the muscular art-rock of Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Anchored by Marc Brownstein's inspired, hard-funk-fusion bass and the relentless, rapid, at times industrial, drum beat of Sam Altman, Gutwillig's high energy techno-trans-groove guitar swirled through Legends in a strobing sonic duet with Aron Magner's gurgling, Moog-ish keyboard sounds. Welcome to the Trance-Fusion wavelength! During the course of the weekend the Biscuits covered a wide range of originals as well as several impressive renditions of "traditional jazz" classics from Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus and Jaco Pastorious, among others.
The Biscuit's 1st set on Friday was high energy throughout and the last two tunes, "Froglegs," and "Nughuffer'" were standouts. Monk's "Straight, No Chaser" began the 2nd set with a mellow, yet subtly psychedelic jazz groove that was the general vibe for the rest of the night. An excellent rendition of "Barfly," with delightful, "in character" vocals, ala Tom Waits, and a stunning workout of Jaco's, "The Chicken," were both among highlights of the three day run.
A few of the Biscuit hardcores who traveled from points unknown clamored for another dose of open-throttle Trance-Fusion, however it wasn't going to happen. Admitting that the band was weary from the vehicle ordeal that forced them to keep their van in 2nd gear for the last leg of their trip from southern California to Las Vegas, Brownstein playfully laid down the law. "We are NOT gonna bust it tonight!" he exclaimed, smiling, acting out the role of camp counselor trying to keep the rowdy kids in line.
The band was laughing, enjoying themselves immensely. Brownstein was on a roll, "We're all gonna be here tomorrow," he assured the faithful, "and mayhem will ensue!" Another glimpse into the band's personality came with their onstage conflict resolution technique called "Ro-Sham-Bo." Unable to achieve a consensus among themselves for a song to cap the evening, a "Ro-Sham-Bo" face-off was held. Much like the traditional hand-signal game "paper-scissors-stone,"
Friday's "Ro-Sham-Bo" pitted Brownstein against Magner in a spine-tingling, roller coaster adventure of strategy, nerves and hand to hand combat. After staging a dramatic comeback from a daunting 3-1 deficit, Brownie emerged as the winner amidst cheers and hoisted mugs. Gutwillig bowed in "I'm not worthy" fashion toward the beaming bass man, as the band went to his choice for the final tune, "Morph Dusseldorf." Saturday night found Legends abuzz with anticipation.
Most of the folks from Friday had come back and a fresh supply of new faces boosted the attendance, as well as the energy level. The band looked very much at home in bare feet and shorts, as they took the stage which was still set up from the night before. Appearing well rested and energized, the Biscuit's did in fact "bust it" all night long. Saturday's two sets were fat with songs from "Uncivilized Area," including standout renditions of "Vassillios," "I-Man," "Jamillia," and "Awol's Blues." Thelonious Monk's classic, "Blue Monk," was stellar indeed, as the Biscuits deftly wove traditional jazz elements into their Trance-Fusion framework.
The weekend's most bizarre moment came at the close of the 1st set on Saturday, when Marcus, a longtime friend of the band, came up to sing. Tall, thin, with wild blonde hair, a glove on one hand and his white satin shirt unbuttoned to his naval, Marcus let loose with an upper register "don't stop 'til you get enough" falsetto as he performed a hip-wriggling, crotch-grabbing version of a Michael Jackson dance tune. Surrealistic, wacky, freakin' insane, call it what you will. No doubt the over-the-top moment will be forever immortalized in Disco Biscuit lore…
Although Sunday lacked the electricity of Saturday, the 3rd night "bonus show" proved to be an intimate party as the groove settled back into the jazzier realms of the Biscuit's world. Dizzy Gillespie's "Night In Tunisia," received a wonderful, extended treatment and a blistering cover of Santana's "Soul Sacrifice," proved beyond a doubt that the band can rock when it wants to.
The Disco Biscuits extended run at Legends was a marathon of audio experimentation, a crafty, and at times brilliant, juxtaposition of new and traditional musical forms. Trance-Fusion is a vibrant, dynamic force and the Disco Biscuits are pioneering its uncharted territories into the new millenium.