On Saturday, November 23rd, The Disco Biscuits took the stage for the second consecutive night at Syracuse, NY’s SI Hall. It was the fourth and final stop on the band’s winter 2019-2020 campaign—the first full Disco Biscuits tour in years. The room was enormous, with extremely high ceilings. As guitarist Jon “Barber” Gutwillig tweeted ahead of the two-night run, “It’s a giant livestock grain silo or something, it’s got the proper echoes to match the sonic pulse of the jam.”
The FOH engineer, Rich Steele, deserves major props for getting the sound dialed in, as that can prove to be a challenging task in cavernous rooms such as this. He’s not the only one, either. The fan base is also grateful to LD Andrew Cass (who normally works with The String Cheese Incident) for doing a fantastic job. He’s been filling in for Johnny R. Goode on the lights and has truly lent himself to the music. His minimalistic approach blends with the current incarnation of the Biscuits extremely well. Rather than blasting the crowd with lasers and strobes, he uses layers and movement in a tasteful manner reminiscent of the stylings of 2006-2008. 1999, 2009 and, now, 2019… every ten years, the Disco Biscuits seem to “break through” and reach a new level of playing. As keyboardist Aron Magner said, “We’ve arrived… again.” And with their first tour in a decade, that statement couldn’t be truer.
Opening the night with “Mulberry’s Dream”, the Biscuits hooked the crowd and had everyone engaged from the jump. A vital part of Gutwillig’s Hot Air Balloon rock opera, “Mulberry’s Dream” is one of the best displays of Barber’s lyricism, and the crowd was screaming the words the whole time. The band took their time and locked into a strong groove as Barber found a pocket and rode his riffs with patience and precision. Bassist Marc “Brownie” Brownstein and drummer Allen Aucoin set a concrete foundation over which Barber and Magner illustrated their melodies. Using space and low dynamics to their advantage, Barber and Magner locked into beautiful back-and-forth interplay. Brownie was right there the whole time, keeping things extremely tight with a rock-solid bassline.
From there, they slipped into “Catalyst” with smooth potency, prompting more cheers from the crowd. They kept the same bounce going, each adding their own ingredients to the sonic recipe without oversaturating the sound. When they’re all on the same wavelength and nobody is overplaying, The Disco Biscuits able to paint as one artist. Magner eventually brought in the ending of “Mulberry’s Dream” and the band followed, crushing the ending of the show-opening segment with fervent liveliness.
Next came “Electric Slinky”, one of new songs the band debuted on this tour. The fan base has been extremely receptive to the new songs, this being one of the favorites. It’s been exciting to see the band flesh out these songs on stage, giving fans a first-hand look into the evolution of each tune. It’s evident that this song will capture the essence of the term “blissco” in all its glory. Its spaced-out electronic rock n’ roll feel is easy to digest and can even be enjoyed by non-fans. By the time the band’s New Year’s run comes around, this song is going to be an emotional rollercoaster of expression.
Everybody was waiting for the band to dust off fan-favorite, “Crickets”, and man oh man, did they give the people what they wanted. Not only did they play “Crickets”, they sandwiched it around another brand-new song, “4th of July”. They’ve been pairing their classics with the new songs incredibly well in all of their setlists this month. The band worked through multiple themes throughout the segment, starting off with a solid four-on-the-floor jam in true Bisco fashion. None of them were forcing anything. They were listening to each and letting the music lead the way one measure at a time. Brownie supplied the pulse as Barber offered up chords for Magner to play around on top of. When they landed in the beginning of “4th of July”, it felt natural—like they’d been jamming into the song for years. The highlight of the segment came by way of the peak at the end of “Crickets”, as the band burned the roof off the venue and got the audience charged up for set two.
The first set featured a lot of space rock, so everyone knew that the band was about to throw down a raging dance party in the second set. They kicked things off with another song debuted this year, “Clocks” (formerly “The Sample Has a Name”). After playing it as a standalone song a few times, they’re now starting to use it as a jam vehicle, and it’s surely promising. The jam out of it on Saturday was exceptional, Magner keeping things dark and heavy as Andrew Cass lit the room up with greens and blues. The SI Music Hall quickly turned into a giant rave fueled by a sci-fi soundtrack. With Allen keeping the kick drum booming, they paused for a beat and dropped into “Gangster” with ferociousness, the room erupting like Mount St. Helens in response. The improv borne from this song was easily one of the greatest moments of the tour thus far. The Disco Biscuits dug their heels in and brought the improvisation to subterranean levels before triumphantly sliding into “Spacebirdmatingcall”. Barber and Brownie juiced the composition and added some extra flair before hitting the jam running.
One of the most interesting trends on this tour has been the band’s tendency to guide their improvisation into complete ambience. It’s like a modernized version of the Grateful Dead’s “Space”. This strategy has allowed them to drop into songs at a faster tempo without it sounding forced. The band has been playing these new Tractorbeam segments at every show, in which they transcribe different sections from various DJ mixes into live instrumentation for a four-piece rock band. On Saturday, they played a section from one of The Magician’s Magic Tapes, “Fly Away” produced by Crackazat. The dancefloor popped off the whole time as they jammed out of it into the ending Spacebird, instantly turning the entire “Spacebirdmatingcall” > “Tractorbeam Jam” > “Spacebirdmatingcall” segment into one of the highlights of the tour.
After that all-out assault of four-on-the-floor, the Biscuits capped off the second set with a standalone “Little Shimmy in a Conga Line”. Barber picked up his Gibson and lead the band on one final charge of the night. After all these years, the song is as powerful as ever. The ending is undoubtedly one of the most vicious sections in the band’s entire catalog. As they hit the final notes, the crowd responded with a minute of non-stop applause, to which Marc Brownstein said, “Thank you guys, we’ve had an unbelievable two weeks with you, it’s great to be back, set break is over.” The band returned to the stage and encored with”Frog Legs” > “Run Like Hell” (finishing the rendition of the Pink Floyd cover started the previous night), a taste of old-school Biscuits for all the people that were seeing them twenty years ago.
Now that this first leg of the tour is over, Gutwillig, Brownstein, Magner, and Aucoin will head home to spend Thanksgiving with their families before gearing up for a huge Florida run for the first time in years. By the time their NYC New Year’s run rolls around, the Disco Biscuits are going to be executing on a level that fans haven’t witnessed in years.
The Playstation Theater (formerly the Best Buy/Nokia theater) has been one of the most important venues during the 2.0 era. Known as “the dungeon” by many fans, the underground theater sits below Times Square in the center of midtown Manhattan. The band has played numerous shows there that are looked back on as monumental moments in Biscuits history: 4/11/08, the 2009 NYE run, TRON, etc. If you have a chance to see the Disco Biscuits at one of their upcoming shows, do what you need to do to make sure you’re in the building—set break is over, and it’s only going to get better from here on out.
You can watch a full, pro-shot video of Saturday night’s performance in Syracuse below. For a full list of upcoming Disco Biscuits tour dates, head here.
The Disco Biscuits – Syracuse, NY – 11/23/19 – Full Pro-Shot Video
[Video: The Disco Biscuits]
Setlist: The Disco Biscuits | SI Hall | Syracuse, NY | 11/23/19
Set One: Mulberry’s Dream> Catalyst> Mulberry’s Dream, Electric Slinky, Crickets> 4th of July> Crickets
Set Two: Clocks> Gangster> Spacebirdmatingcall> Tractorbeam Jam*> Spacebirdmatingcall, Little Shimmy In A Conga Line
Encore: Frog Legs> Run Like Hell^
*Fly Away (Crackazat)
^ending only; completes 11/22/19 version
On the day off between the run’s 3rd and 4th nights of the Disco Biscuits’ New Year’s run on December 29th, the side projects of both keyboardist Aron Magner and bassist Marc Brownstein will perform in the city.
First, in the afternoon, Magner’s jazz trio, SPAGA, will deliver an intimate performance at DROM (Doors: 3:00 p.m. / Show: 4:00 p.m.). Tickets are available here.
Later, Brownstein’s Star Kitchen will host a late-night blowout at Sony Hall (Doors: 11:30 p.m. / Show: 12:30 a.m.) featuring help from guitarist Eric Krasno and the Trey Anastasio Band horn section (Jennifer Hartswick, Natalie Cressman, and James Casey). Tickets are available here.