It’s a typically warm, beautiful evening outside at Stubb’s as the Disco Biscuits take the stage in an unusual position. The jamtronica stalwarts have inspired a devoted core fanbase that will follow the band for any number of shows in a row, and/or seek to acquire recordings of every show on a tour because each one is different and will have its own unique peak moments.
But here in the Lone Star State, the band’s growing popularity is perhaps not quite as strong, so they’re co-headlining for a Texas three-step with Gov’t Mule, which means the Biscuits will be playing just one set tonight instead of their usual two. Bassist Marc Brownstein seems in high spirits though, as he announces he’s just been informed this is the first show of the season at Stubb’s, adding an extra air of festivity to the proceedings.
Brownie, as he’s known to the faithful, also announces the band hasn’t been to Austin in some time, but are glad to be back. With that, the quartet launches into a brief run through “Uber Glue”, which soon gives way to the melodic tones of “Spacebirdmatingcall”. Just like that, the band is knee deep into a set of high-powered jams that keep the crowd grooving for the next 90 minutes.
Keyboardist Aron Magner is the maestro, delivering an array of spacey synth sounds for Brownstein and drummer Allen Aucoin to play over. Guitarist Jon “The Barber” Gutwillig is a wizard of his own, deftly weaving melodic lines in and out, as Magner continues to lay down a variety of soundscapes. The song is classic Bisco, as it enables the band to establish a familiar theme, jam out in any direction their muse might take them, yet still build off that initial theme. Gutwillig’s guitar takes over eventually, smoking chops ablaze. But it’s the way the other three keep building the groove that gives Gutwillig such big waves to surf on.
The jam is an early triumph, but is left unfinished as the band segues into “42”, and off they go again. The tune builds to a quick peak that gives way to the groovier sounds of “Gangster”, with Magner starting on piano before switching back to the psychedelic synths. The crowd is immersed in a blissful trance as Magner and the rhythm section propel another big wave.
With no second set to hold back for, the band brings pure heat. Time and again, Gutwillig’s fretwork has jaws dropping as the six-string ace cuts loose. Gov’t Mule’s Warren Haynes was ranked the 23rd best guitarist of all-time by Rolling Stone a few years ago, but Gutwillig is giving him a run for the money tonight.
By the time the band segues from “Gangster” into “I-Man”, it feels as if we’re well into a second set. After 10 minutes, the song starts to break down into a half-time groove that slows things a bit, but still sees the band playing around with a variety of sonic bells and whistles. The jam then builds back up again with Aucoin dazzling on the skins while Gutwillig brings “the fire” yet again for another triumphant conclusion.
The song actually ends this time before the band dials up “Taramin Alley”, which seems to conjure a mystical march across the cosmos. Brownstein’s vocal rap recalls Cake’s “Going the Distance”, while Magner and Gutwillig continue to space out.
The set peaks with the anthemic call of “M.E.M.P.H.I.S.”. Magner dials back the synths and brings in some piano, while Brownstein and Gutwillig sing some of their most melodic vocals for more of an old school rock and roll vibe. The tune soon gives way to a spacier section that gets a big cosmic groove going, with the lights swirling for maximum psychedelia. The song is an epic journey, taking listeners from straight ahead rock to a dynamic space jam, coming back through a light-hearted dance more akin to fairies flitting around and back again, before segueing into the earlier “42” to wrap the set up with a flourish as Gutwillig burns up his fret board once more. The crowd responds with maximum enthusiasm, knowing this journey was all the Bisco mayhem they’ll get tonight, but feeling fulfilled from that dosage nonetheless.
Gov’t Mule clearly have they’re work cut out for them now. There’s a half-hour set break during which it becomes clear that Stubb’s has really filled in because the place is now packed. Mule hits the stage with a typically bluesy jam that leads to old standby “Thorazine Shuffle”. It rocks out, but after the peak bliss of the Bisco set, it’s a big change to an edgy blues-rock sound like this.
A jam that touches on “Jungle Boogie” and “Who Do You Love” re-invokes some of the party atmosphere and gets the crowd moving, but “Banks of the Deep End” then returns to the darker blues. It’s a classic Mule song, but again, the vibe is just so different, it doesn’t feel like the best fit on this Friday night.
Perhaps Mule guitarist/leader Warren Haynes starts to sense this incongruity, as he changes gears with the triumphant “Brighter Days”. One of the hottest tunes from the band’s most recent studio album, the uplifting rocker has a slide guitar part that recalls Zeppelin’s “Traveling Riverside Blues” and a major key vibe that opens up for some hard rocking yet melodic jamming. Haynes also delivers some of his finest vocals on the tune before tearing it up on guitar. This is the first time in the set where the vibe feels like it’s starting to match the energy that the Biscuits were bringing.
Later, another heartwarming moment occurs when Blues Traveler’s John Popper joins the party along with guitarist David Grissom for “32/20 Blues”. Always a welcome guest, Popper’s ever-dazzling harmonica work lifts the music higher and brings some more festive vibes to the proceedings.
Mule gets the crowd going further still a bit later with a heavy “Other One” jam that tips a cap to Haynes’ ongoing work with the Grateful Dead musical family. Longtime drummer Matt Abts and new bassist Jorgen Carlsson conjure a massive groove that provides a platform for Haynes to shred all over, with the lights shining psychedelic flavor on the trees. “Blind Man in the Dark” closes out the set with another bluesy rocker and the crowd roars in appreciation. But this night belonged to the Disco Biscuits.
Hopes that the Biscuits’ Gutwillig would sit in with Mule do not materialize in the encore, but Texas-by-way-of-Canada guitarist Gordie Johnson appears for an extended jam on “I’m a Ram”, which alternates between reggae verses and hard rock choruses, for a hot closer that jams in a variety of flavors.