The Disco Biscuits have always been something of an enigma. Even now, just two years shy of their thirtieth anniversary, the Philadelphia-based quartet continues to carve their own path in the jamband world’s increasingly homogenous musical landscape with their innovative “trancefusion” sound. Armed with a penchant for putting on tantalizingly high-energy performances that blend the more traditional elements of jazz, blues, and rock with modern electronic styles such as house, jungle, and dub, the Biscuits have established themselves as one the nation’s premier live musical attractions.
After all, how many other bands could deliver a pair of sets lasting nearly four hours that run the musical gamut from LTJ Bukem to Rick James, feature a Motown-approved horn ensemble, and contain original material from three separate rock operas?
Well, that’s precisely what the Disco Biscuits did when they visited The Anthem in Washington, D.C. this past Saturday night (2/4).
Closing out a brief two-week jaunt throughout the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, the Biscuits treated the near-capacity crowd to a healthy mix of newer material along with some cherished favorites.
“Plan B”, the opening act to bassist Marc Brownstein’s apocalyptic Chemical Warfare Brigade rock opera, kicked things off with some tight interplay between keyboardist Aron Magner and guitarist Jon Gutwillig ahead of a triumphant instrumental coda and was followed up with “Kitchen Mitts”, an unreleased track originally debuted in 2002 that featured the entire crowd singing along to the song’s anthemic vocal refrain.
The remainder of the set was capped by a riveting three-song sequence propelled by the masterful percussive stylings of drummer Allen Aucoin that stretched for nearly an hour and included a pair of newer songs, “Shocked!” and “The Deal”, sandwiched in between the opening and closing segments of the classic “Above The Waves.”
“Shocked!”, a funky entry from Gutwillig’s upcoming, and still untitled, space-themed rock opera, represents yet another bold compositional endeavor from the prolific guitarist. However, Gutwillig’s recharged song-writing energies extend well beyond his upcoming interstellar opus. Currently, Gutwillig, along with author and longtime New Yorker journalist Nicholas Schmidle, are adapting the guitarist’s first rock opera, Hot Air Balloon, for the theater.
After a brief intermission, the band returned to the stage, this time bolstered by the members of the evening’s supporting act, Snacktime, a Philly-based brass-powered funk septet. The now-eleven-piece ensemble tore through a pair of R&B classics – Kool & The Gang’s “Get Down On It” and Rick James’ “Give It To Me Baby” – with the Snacktime horn section lending an air of authenticity to the material thanks to their genuinely funky arrangements.
After some uneven lead vocal performances during the aforementioned pair of R&B covers, Gutwillig redeemed himself with a strong delivery of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” coupled with some seemingly David Gilmour-inspired guitar solos.
As the members of Snacktime exited stage right to a well-deserved raucous ovation, the Biscuits charged into “Caterpillar”, another decades-old unreleased fan-favorite. The dark and apoplectic jam that ensued featured a series of impressive peaks and ultimately encompassed a trio of newer material, including “Who’s In Charge”, “The Wormhole” and a tongue-in-cheek performance of “Anthem”, an instrumental powerhouse that featured some of Gutwillig’s most formidable guitar-work of the evening, before returning to “Catepillar’s” final refrain to close out the set.
Up against a strictly enforced midnight curfew, the band returned for a relatively brief encore performance of another beloved original, “Story of the World”, a fitting choice to consummate the group’s first appearance in the nation’s capitol in over four years.