Another year has come and gone, and the Disco Biscuits ended it in spectacular fashion at The Fillmore in their home city of Philadelphia, PA. After a stretch of shows in Frisco, Colorado, and Mexico for Holidaze, the band and crew were primed to put on a four-night run that would be engraved in the minds of fans for years to come.

From the first set to the final note, the compositions were tight and the jams were driven and thematic. All four members were clicking at an exceptionally high level and their synchronicity was beyond evident as they performed with the same aggressiveness that catapulted them to success twenty-plus years ago.

The first night of the run started off with a bang with a monstrous “Basis for A Day > Crystal Ball > Basis for A Day”. The second “Basis” jam will be looked back on as one of the most impressive jams of 2018. Fans looked at each other in disbelief as an unforgiving tidal wave of trance-fusion rushed from the stage. It was pure mayhem in the best possible way. Keyboardist Aron Magner used his synthesizers like weapons of digital destruction as bassist Marc Brownstein and drummer Allen Aucoin provided a necessary backbone. Once the melody got tossed to guitarist Jon “Barber” Gutwillig, he caught it and sprinted into the end zone with ease. They finished the set with one of the most classic 1.0 segments in their catalogue, “Stone > Devils Waltz”. It showcases a completely different side of the band and is a prime example of how vast their spectrum of sound is.

They kept their foot on the gas in the second set with a handful of standout moments, one being a memorable version of an inverted “Highwire” sandwiched in between “Hope”. Another came when they jammed out of “7-11” into their classic cover of Tchaikovsky’s “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies”. But nobody in attendance or watching at home will argue that the most unforgettable moment came at the end of the set. For the first time since 12/27/04, the Disco Biscuits busted out the famed “Haleakala Crater”, a song that many fans have been chasing for well over ten years. There were tears, there were smiles, there were cheers, high fives, and hugs. It was a truly extraordinary moment in Biscuits history as it was the first time that the song has been played with drummer Allen Aucoin behind the kit.

12/28/18 – Full Pro-Shot Video

[Video: The Disco Biscuits]

12/28/18 – “Haleakala Crater”

[Video: The Disco Biscuits]

Setlist: The Disco Biscuits | The Fillmore | Philadelphia, PA | 12/28/18
Set 1: Basis For A Day> Crystal Ball> Basis For A Day, Stone> The Devil’s Waltz

Set 2: Hope> Highwire[1]> Hope, 7-11[2]> Dance Of The Sugar Plum Fairy, Haleakala Crater[3]

Encore: Floes

[1] inverted version
[2] unfinished
[3] last played 12/27/2004 (675 shows)

Once the Disco Biscuits have momentum on their side, the sky is the limit and the musical possibilities are endless. They could not miss during the first set of 12/29. There was no noodling or miscommunications between band members. None of them stepped on each other’s toes or overplayed in a way that was unnecessary. Their individual decision making was conducive to one thing and one thing only—laying down the most impressive and complete set possible.

After opening with a phenomenal standalone version of “42”, they took the crowd into deep waters with a three-song segment that was patient and explosive. “Resurrection > Naeba (inverted) > Pilin’ It Higher” was everything that a diehard Biscuits fan looks for when travelling around the country to see them. Since adding two Fender Stratocasters to his setup, Barber’s playing has been passionate and reinvigorated. “Resurrection” is one of the most groove-heavy songs that the Biscuits play, with a thick bassline and a steady rhythm that swings naturally. The band jammed into an inverted “Naeba” and the song’s blissfulness washed over the crowd, but that brightness soon turned into a nasty sonic assault of darkness. The extreme contrast in the Biscuits sound is what makes them stand out as the premier jamtronica act in the scene. “Pilin’ It Higher” gave Allen a chance to show off his ridiculous drum n’ bass chops as it always does, and his mechanics were absolutely brain shattering. Set one of 12/29 will undoubtedly be re-listened to for years to come.

It seemed it would be a  difficult task to top that set, but the Biscuits followed it up with a massive palindrome that would best be described as non-stop tenacity. “Reactor > Orch Theme > I-Man > Gangster > I-Man > Orch Theme > Reactor” is the type of set that a fan would submit to the band as a fantasy setlist. It was dynamic with peaks and valleys that kept the audience engaged from start to finish. By the time they dropped into “Gangster”, the foundation of The Fillmore was shaking with a ferociousness that most outsiders wouldn’t be able to handle. But for the fans that have been to countless Biscuits shows, it was heavenly in the most sinister way possible. The jam out of “Gangster” was flawless, as they dropped their volume all the way down and the crowd went crazy, Barber laughing away. One can only imagine that he was thinking: “We cannot miss tonight”. The “I-man” was beautiful, but the jam into “Orch Theme” was comparable to a volcanic eruption. After landing in the ending of “Reactor”, they encored with an especially bluesy version of “Barfly” that had fans singing along in unison. All in all, it was one of the most complete shows of the year.

12/29/18 – Full Pro-Shot Video

[Video: The Disco Biscuits]

Setlist: The Disco Biscuits | The Fillmore | Philadelphia, PA | 12/28/18

Set 1: 42, Resurrection> Naeba[1]> Pilin’ It High[2]
Set 2: Reactor> Orch Theme> I-Man> Gangster> I-Man> Orch Theme> Reactor
Encore: Barfly[3]

[1] inverted version
[2] Perfume version
[3] last played 12/26/2014 (136 shows)

By the time the third night came around, the band and fans were riding so high, it would be impossible for the music not to hold up to the previous nights. The first set contained another segment that is a definite contender for segment of the year, as “Feeling Twisted > Catalyst (inverted) > Morph Dusseldorf (inverted) > Down to the Bottom” featured the most risk-taking of the run to that point.

It was the first time that the band inverted “Catalyst” and only the second time that they inverted “Morph Dusseldorf”, both of which are challenging feats that can only be achieved when the band is playing at their best. The funk jam out of “Morph” had the crowd swaying as one as Brownstein and Allen gave Barber and Magner a pocket to sit in and explore for as long as they wanted. The tone of Barber’s new Stratocaster sounded perfect as he found one immaculate riff after another. He capped it off with one of the most ferocious guitar solos that he’s played on the new axe. From there, Allen sped the tempo up to a steady gallop and the band slid into “Down to the Bottom” with undeniable swagger, ending the set on a high note.

The Biscuits fanbase lost a few great fans in 2018, so when they opened up the second set of 12/30 with “Eulogy”, there were definitely some watery eyes in the room. Next came a standalone version of “House Dog Party Favor” that got digitally psychedelic before building into one of the steepest peaks of the run.

Just like the previous night, they finished off the second set with a tremendous segment. The band used space to their advantage during “Mindless Dribble” > “Crickets” (inverted) > “Sabre Dance”. Magner and Barber took turns painting illustrious auditory landscapes on the enormous canvas that Brownstein and Allen provided. During the first notes of “Crickets”, they were all smiling with a contagious youthful energy. It was as if they somehow captured their emotions from twenty years ago in a bottle and popped the cork for this run. “Sabre Dance” is another challenging composition that is easy to get lost in, but they nailed it. They finally encored with “Svenghali”, another glorious example of the Disco Biscuits and their signature trance-fusion.

12/30/18 – Full Pro-Shot Video

[Video: The Disco Biscuits]

Setlist: The Disco Biscuits | The Fillmore | Philadelphia, PA | 12/28/18

Set 1: Frog Legs, Feeling Twisted> Catalyst[1][2]> Morph Dusseldorf[1]> Down To The Bottom
Set 2: Eulogy[3], House Dog Party Favor, Mindless Dribble> Crickets[1]> Sabre Dance[4]
Encore: Svenghali

[1] inverted version
[2] first time inverted
[3] last played 12/27/2013 (165 shows)
[4] last played 7/18/2015 (117 shows)

By the time New Year’s Eve came around, rumors were flying about what they had up their sleeve for the finale. A number of fans had a feeling the band would play their Hot Air Balloon rock opera in its entirety, and they turned out to be right.

Upon entering The Fillmore for the final Biscuits show of the year, fans were greeted by staff and handed a playbill that read, “The Disco Biscuits Present A 20th Anniversary Performance of The Hot Air Balloon Rock Opera.” The two-act song cycle was written by Gutwillig in 1998 and debuted on New Year’s Eve at the intimate Silk City Diner in Philadelphia. It has only been played in its entirety three times in the 2000’s, and only once since Allen Aucoin joined the band. The last time was on Halloween in 2007, so a lot of the younger fans had never witnessed it.

The band split the acts up in the first two sets of the night and let the music speak for itself, taking the crowd on a journey through the heartfelt story of love and the dedication to not only following your heart, but also following your dreams. The love triangle between Corrinado, Leora of the Sequoias, and her husband, the merciless ruler Manilla Trane has the ability to speak to anyone that’s willing to listen.

The night opened with “The Overture” and was followed by “Once the Fiddler Paid”, the first two scenes of the story. Ghost Light pianist Holly Bowling, dressed as Leora, joined the band for one of the most elegant intros of “The Very Moon” to date. She exited the stage as the band jammed the song out and transitioned into “Voices Insane: with focus and devotion. They closed the first set with Eulogy, as it’s written in Act I, revisiting it in context after playing it the night before.

The second set opened with “Bazaar Escape”, one of the most difficult compositions in the Biscuits catalog, and it was by far one of the most excellent renditions of the past ten years. The transition into “Mulberry’s Dream” was seamless, and the song contained some of the most exploratory improvisation of night. Nobody could have imagined what would happened next during “Above the Waves” as a waterfall poured down from in front of the lighting rig. The crew spent hours setting up the special effect that created an extremely psychedelic experience for the fans when mixed with the lighting design from Johnny R. Goode. The band capped off the set with the final scene of Act II, the titular “Hot Air Balloon”. It was a truly transcendental experience for everyone involved.

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in a hot air balloon 🎈👽🎈 📸 @seangillis_photography

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All in all, the 20th anniversary of The Hot Air Balloon Rock Opera was an enormous success, but the Biscuits had one last set to finish 2018 strong. Like they’ve done so many times before, they counted down into the new year with “Helicopters”, as the band and fans screamed, “Happy New Year, Look Out Below!”. They cranked the energy up as high as they could to finish the run as strong as it started, jamming into “Mr. Don” > “The Great Abyss” and back into the ending of “Helicopters” in true Bisco fashion.

When the lights came on, the crowd was speechless. All they could do was cheer as loud as they possibly could. It was obvious that the band and crew had worked tirelessly to create the best possible experience for their die-hard fans to look back on, and it will be remembered as one of the most historic runs in Biscuits history. The band is showing no signs of letting up in 2019, with a three-night run at The Capitol Theatre scheduled in less than a month. So, buckle up and enjoy the ride, because the Disco Biscuits are here to stay.

12/31/18 – Full Pro-Shot Video

[Video: The Disco Biscuits]

Setlist: The Disco Biscuits | The Fillmore | Philadelphia, PA | 12/28/18

Set 1: The Overture, Once The Fiddler Paid, The Very Moon[1]> Voices Insane, Eulogy

Set 2: Bazaar Escape[2]> Mulberry’s Dream, Above The Waves, Hot Air Balloon[3]

Set 3: Helicopters[4]> Mr. Don[5]> The Great Abyss> Helicopters[4]

Encore: Run Like Hell

[1] with Holly Bowling on piano during intro
[2] with ‘Voices Insane’ bridge
[3] with New Year’s Eve countdown
[4] with New Year’s Eve lyrics
[5] unfinished

Sets 1 and 2 were the 9th complete performance of the Hot Air Balloon rock opera, played on the 20th anniversary of its debut