[5 December 2006]
The Disco Biscuits’ Ohio run concluded with a Sunday night show at Cleveland’s House of Blues. The venue had a smaller pit and lower ceilings than the previous night’s performance, so the vibe was more intimate, if a bit cramped.
Opener “Once the Fiddler Paid” didn’t exactly catch fire, but keyboardist Aaron Magner cranked his synths up a notch to drive “Liquid Handcuffs” into a much faster fury. Few keyboardists have the arsenal to match Magner’s array of psychedelic sounds. Guitarist Jon “the Barber” Gutwillig threw down some nimble riffs while Magner continued to push the trance-synth groove. Then, just when the tune began to meander, drummer Allen Aucoin and bassist Marc Brownstein kicked it back into overdrive, and Magner and Gutwillig went melodically wild on top. The Bisco dance party was on.
It would have been easy for the band to slip into a Sunday night letdown, especially after such a strong Saturday show, but the Biscuits were clearly in it to win it. If you’re looking for three-minute ditties then look elsewhere—this four-song set was over an hour long, evidence that the band is not afraid to use its musical prowess to exploratory ends.
“Digital Buddha” was next, a metaphysical tour de force that stands as one of the band’s more monumental 21st century tunes: “Digital Buddha’s coming for you/ With a big old belly and a Fu Manchu.” Magner was once again the lead force, the other musicians feeding off his spacey synths. As the jam built to a peak, Gutwillig stepped in with some lightning-quick lead guitar. All of a sudden one realized that Aucoin was going crazy, Brownstein was laying down a serious low end, and Bisco madness had exploded.
The band paused a moment before launching into “Spraypaint Victory,” another crowd pleaser. Gutwillig and Brownstein laid down the song’s melodic riffs in unison as bodies danced all over the House of Blues. Gutwillig turned down during the song’s intricate bridge as Magner again draped the song in trance-synth psychedelic sounds. The groove kept building and building, as the band followed Magner’s lead through never-never land. By the time Gutwillig came back in with a solo, liftoff had once again been achieved, and the crowd was overtaken by the transcendent groove.
The bluesy “Barfly” opened the second set, an acknowledgement of Cleveland’s reputation as a drinking town—“I’ve so many wounds/ That I hope they’ll never mend/ But I can raise my glass up/ For a beer with all my friends.” Magner came strong on the organ as the song conjured an old-school Doors vibe.
“Munchkin Invasion” channeled visions of Oz gone amok as Gutwillig threatened to take over the show with his machine gun leads. He soon backed off, deftly interweaving his instrument with Brownstein’s trancy bottom end and Magner’s spacey synths. The jam built layer upon layer of world-class rock improv until it reached yet another triumphant intergalactic explosion.
“M.E.M.P.H.I.S.” kept the vibe going with more deep trance groove jamming, and another soaring jam that featured some of Gutwillig’s most adventurous playing. But it turned out to be mere prelude for the surprise of the night. The jam slowed down into a spacey interlude that then led into what seemed a tease of Pink Floyd’s “Shine on You Crazy Diamond.” It became Pink Floyd’s “Echoes.” The previous night’s stellar rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Run Like Hell” had been in the repertoire for years, but “Echoes” was a first-time Bisco bust-out! Suffice it to say this epic rendition of the seminal psychedelic classic was well received.
The melodic bliss of “Hope” sent fans on their way with a memorable and inspiring encore. What seemed at first to be an attempt to wind things down quietly quickly cranked up again for one last blast of Bisco mayhem. The deft changes from the subtle verses to the high-energy choruses once again illustrated the skill that makes the Disco Biscuits one of the 21st century’s top purveyors of improvisational rock and roll—one of the melodies in the end jam even recalled the Ewok song from the celebration at the end of Return of the Jedi. This was apropos, as the Disco Biscuits’ return to Ohio was a celebration that extended well beyond the borders of mere time and space.