All Disco Biscuits shows are not created equal. Throughout their career, the band has gone through periods of inconsistency that can last for years at a time. In fact, the only guarantee involved in attending a Biscuits run are the differing opinions that the massively diverse fan-base somehow accumulates over the course of the weekend. Their homecoming at the Fillmore Philadelphia last weekend drove this point home yet again, with nearly everyone’s preference all over the musical map. Thursday, February 2 kicked the weekend off with a rarely played tune, “Biscuits Are Coming Home” which has only been performed 3 times previous, the last of which was in 2010.
From the information gathered, it seems as though there was a 33/34/33 split as to who championed February 2, 3, and 4 as the best shows, respectively. Friday happened to be my 50th Disco Biscuits show, so let’s hope there isn’t a slight bias in my agreeing with the slight majority. Thursday’s setlist selections didn’t seem to stream, while Saturday was nearly completely frequent repeats (with several of the evening’s tracks having been performed multiple times during the last 3 runs) from last year’s rotation. Anyway, let’s put on our red shoes and dance.
The 3rd began with familiar Philadelphia locals, Swift Technique. Combining aspects of funk, rock and roll, and hip hop with a heavy rhythm section and the sparkling lead vocals of Chelsea ViaCava provided an excellent warm up to the ultimately horny theme of the evening. A skintight rendition of Rage Against the Machine’s “Know Your Enemy” provided the horn section a platform on which to display their multifaceted choreography routine; playing while darting through the crowd to the delight of surprised early birds.
The Biscuits hit the stage a few minutes before 10 PM, coming hot off the line with “Bernstein And Chasnoff.” Guitarist Jon “Babs” Gutwillig took a few minutes to gain his sea legs, but by the time they rolled into “Voices Insane” his licks and hairstyle for the evening fulfilled the wacky technicality demanded by the composition. The solo was noticeably brighter than the commonly minor and eerie jam that suits the song’s unsettling lyrical content. It appropriately continued the upbeat theme as bassist Marc “Brownie” Brownstein slapped it silly into the end of “Bernstein and Chasnoff,” bringing the first segment of the night to a promising end.
Quite a tasty sandwich, and only the first course! The opening bars of “The Very Moon” proved another slight challenge for the Barber, but he seemed to lock in and flash a smile at keyboardist Aron Magner just as the galloping acoustic piano lit up the whole room. With 2 crystal chandeliers flanking the stage on either side of the ceiling at the Fillmore, the light show was multiplied in a dazzling array of prisms. Just as the tune was about to peak into its heavy riffing funk section, Swift Technique’s horn section rejoined the stage for a seamless transition into Rick James’ “Give it To Me Baby,” which the Disco Biscuits have played once before on Halloween of 2015, also accompanied by horns. This version seemed more frequently rehearsed, having been at both performances. The ST horns exited stage left as the funk cover transitioned into an ending of the old school “Morph Dusseldorf” to complete the final round of the first set.
After a quick half hour plus set break, the boys from Philly came out swingin’ harder than Rocky with a pummeling “King of the World,” with the horns of Swift Technique once again in their corner. Drummer Allen Aucoin kept pace as immaculately as usual, slowing things down for a debut cover of David Bowie’s 1983 smash hit “Let’s Dance.” The white lasers playing off the disco ball like a crown brought the energy of the crowd straight back to the 80’s dance vibe that we all hate to love. Disco Biscuit cover tunes are usually not, in any way, my bag; but something about Gutwillig’s low crooning register actually worked with the classic. It was roughly 10 to 15 times more together than last year’s covers of “Touch Me” and some other unmemorable tripe at the February Fillmore run, which were also performed with Swift Technique horns. And the Doors are completely unbearable as it is.
The resulting improvisation was quite danceable, flirting with a few familiar melodies before taking flight with an inverted “Humuhumunukunukuapua’a.” “Astronaut” continued the segment with a surprising drop in and quite the dreamy bridge, conjuring an image and feeling of zero gravity. There were many contradictory opinions as to where the next jam was leading, and the Biscuits turned up the heat big time with the lead in to the chorus of “Down to the Bottom,” playing a fully dyslexic version instead of their typical last-first inversion arrangement. Combining that classic with the end of “Confrontation” to bring the evening to a close left many fans with their favorite high energy segment of the weekend. For the encore the boys selected “On Time,” which was a bit strange considering they played it in the encore slot on the second night of last year’s Fillmore run as well.
With two down and one to go, the internet was ablaze with vastly differing commentary. We rushed to our Ubers and off to typical Philly after parties in cramped lofts to continue having our brains jangled by DJs, Space Bacon, and other sixth tier jam squads…and to continue the beautiful and elusive flight of the Flugel.
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