Tractorbear is an effort by four lifelong friends from New York City to replicate a bit of the magic and mystery that defined The Disco Biscuits in the band’s infancy, long before they had a namesake festival, sold out Red Rocks, built apps, or jammed with members of the Grateful Dead. This doesn’t mean their setlists are stuck in 1999 (far from it in fact — they busted out the Biscuits’ latest number ‘The Champions” as an encore the first gig they got after the Biscuits debuted it). Rather, Tractorbear inhabits the same sheerly experimental space that once characterized the Disco Biscuits, completely uninhibited by the expectations of an arena-sized audience and beholden only to their desire to put something completely original out there on stage during each performance.
In classic Biscuits fashion, Tractorbear was booked to close down the night at The Hall At MP following performances by Uncle Ebeneezer and The Allmost Brothers’ Band, as well as a separate gig for the more electronically-inclined new side-project of Aron Magner and Marc Brownstein with the members of Break Science — Breaking Biscuits — over at Brooklyn Bowl. Hitting the stage a bit after 12:30, the band was obviously expected to deliver a dance party. Before the group got started, however, they brought Corey Feldman of Uncle Ebeneezer on stage and performed a one-off cover of Audioslave’s “Like A Stone” in memory of Chris Cornell, whose suicide at the end of the week broke the hearts of a lot of kids whose formative years were in the early aughts. The lyrics certainly took on a new heaviness in the light of his passing.
Beginning now in earnest, the band led off with a calm and patient “Shelby Rose.” Some fans were still filtering in through the MP’s glass doors, and as a warm summer breeze wafted its way through the club, some couples began to glide to the dance floor hand-in-hand while other friends exchanged bear hugs in the middle of a welcoming and grinning audience. The song is one of naive, giddy affection, and the band delivers it as such. With lyrics that border on treacle over a soundscape of devilishly insistent building frenzy, it felt like both a celebration of a pristine springy day and a subtle nod to the potentialities of a long warm night. This more sinister vein was explored as the jam morphed into a ripping and rolling “Tempest,” a song that is more of one pure, drawn-out peak than anything else, with a grimy and insatiable energy to its synths from Steven Lasker that got the crowd jumping. The segment ended with the frenzied chaotic conclusion of “Shelby Rose,” delivered with aplomb from guitarist James Dellisanti and a roar from a crowd that was now invigorated and brimming with friends.
Up next, Tractorbear switched into a full-throated delivery of some of the most high-energy songs in the Biscuits’ catalog. First up was a roaring “Munchkin Invasion,” whose complex and fascinating jam was anchored by the stellar percussive talents of Jason Cohen, who managed to keep the band on the same page through a song that really seems to have two speeds: fast and reckless abandon. From deep within a jungle-y jam, the band found its way out on the tips of Paulie Katz’s bass-slapping fingers, who guided them into an all-out dance party in the form of “Rock Candy.” A perfect song to end a set on, the band walked off the stage after the last “Now we both got two” exclamation and into an adoring audience.
The second set began sometime around two a.m., but far from seeming enervated, the audience looked its most full and enthusiastic. Starting out softly again, the band eased its way into a jam characterized by Delissanti and Lasker’s teasing of Eiffel 65’s “I’m Blue.” The absurdity of it drew some laughs, but the band’s chops certainly weren’t lacking as they started to stretch it out. The freeform jam eventually resolved itself into the end of “Confrontation,” a triumphant bit of music that signaled the beginning of an inverted version of the song. Though it started with the band attacking the beat, by its conclusion, “Confrontation” had proven to be one of the more fully realized jam vehicles of the night, showing off the sort of playfulness that a judgement-free stage presence can foster.
Up next was a brief detour through the most unexplored nether regions of The Disco Biscuits’ ample song selection: “Chilled Briefly,” a song that — to this correspondent’s knowledge — has only ever been played once before, at Camp Bisco 7. Up next was a standalone “Mulberry’s Dream,” whose reggae vibes, carefree lyricism, and impish joyfulness make it a summer night’s absolute essence. The last segment of the night saw the band leave it all out on the stage for their fans who had managed to stick it out until the wee hours. Starting with a rocking “M.E.M.P.H.I.S.,” the band accelerated into a vertiginous “Cyclone,” a song that still maintained the driving, gritty, techno flavor that characterized it when it was first debuted by JM2 (a supergroup/side project of the Biscuits from more than a decade ago). To close the set, they wove their way out into the end of “Digital Buddha,” showing off their more orchestral, classical flavor and wowing any jam-band fans that might have been unfamiliar with the sheer complexity of some of the Biscuits’ compositions.
After a “World Is Spinning” encore, fans headed out into the morning hours with beaming eyes to the sky and hearts full of wonder. Here was a band performing the songs of their idols, re-cast by their own hands and with their own tweaks on them. Up next for Tractorbear will be a show on June 17th at American Beauty in midtown, where they’ll debut a full set of their own originals, as well as perform another set of Biscuity goodness. We’ll see you there!
[Cover photo via Tractorbear’s Facebook page]
Setlist: Tractorbear | The Hall at MP | New York, NY | 5/19/2017
Set One: Like a Stone*. Shelby Rose > Tempest > Shelby Rose, Munchkin Invasion (unf) > Rock Candy
Set Two: Jam** > Confrontation (><) > Chilled Briefly, Mulberry’s Dream, MEMPHIS (unf) > Cyclone > Digital Buddha (end only)
Encore: World is Spinning
* = Audioslave cover. Featuring Corey Corey J. Feldman of Uncle Ebeneezer.
** – With “I’m Blue” teases