On Sunday night I saw The Disco Biscuits at Brooklyn Bowl, one of Brooklyn’s hottest new venues. I haven’t caught the Biscuits for a few years, so it was great not only to be able to check them out again but to do so in my new hometown of Brooklyn.
Unfortunately, the night got off to a rough start with a complete clusterfuck at the will-call line. After waiting for at least a good 45 minutes, I was kicking myself in the ass for not making the trek up to the venue to grab my tickets earlier in the day. Although the long wait sapped a good amount of my energy, once I was inside, full beer-in-hand, the night started to look up.
Brooklyn Bowl is a killer new spot in Williamsburg, the latest venue project from former Wetlands owner Pete Shapiro. I’ve been impressed with their continually-evolving calendar of live events and consistently up-to-date website and social net sites. Plus, they’ve got great beer selection, very friendly staff and bar food that’s definitely a step above the norm. Since the band usually plays shows to crowds in the 1,000+ range, the 600-person capacity Brooklyn Bowl was a much more intimate affair and definitely pushed the venues capacity limits. As a result, the sellout crowd made things pretty damn tight getting in and out of the stage/bar area. But will-call line and crowding issues aside, this place is a great spot, and may just be my new favorite venue in Brooklyn.
Before the band took the stage, Pete Shapiro gave a little intro speech about how he’d watched the band grow and witnessed many special nights of the Disco Biscuits playing to packed/sweaty crowds at the Wetlands in the late 90s. It was nice way to reflect on how far these guys have come over the last 10+ years since those early days playing endless sets, especially at a venue that played a key role in the early careers of so many other great touring bands. It was also a fitting way to celebrate the band’s new EP release, On Time, which they gave away to each fan as a freebie on the way out of the show (more on the EP later).
As it was the EP release party, it only made sense that they bust out some of the songs from the new release. They kicked things off with an odd new tune called “Loose Change,” which I can only describe as having the feel of a more ambient pop anthem by Moby. They followed it with another newer song, called “Pimp Blue Rikki,” which was a slow-groove number that featured bassist Marc Brownstein having some fun with his midi keyboard bass tones for some serious low-end. As would be the theme of the night, the energy didn’t totally pick up until the band dropped into their heavy-hitter tunes like “Mindless Dribble” and “King of the World,” both uptempo highlights from the first set.
For the second set, they again combined some of their old-school jam vehicles like “Basis for a day” and “Save the Robots” with some newer tunes like “¿Donde?”, “Mirrors,” and their brand-new EP title track “On Time.” The drop into “Basis” and the outro jam that followed was probably the highlight of my night. This song never ceases to get fans completely riled up and rowdy (see videos below).
“¿Donde?” and “Mirrors” are both newer tunes that find a perfect mix of being interesting and fresh, yet still sounding distinctly like the original Disco Biscuits. I really dig the Indian-influenced samples in “”¿Donde?” which give it a bit of a world beat feel. The “Mirrors” outro and its progression into the finale of “Save the Robots” was another high-energy highlight of the night that got everyone moving. The “I-man” that closed the second set lost me a bit towards the end, but I really enjoyed the long intro. I have no idea if this is something they’ve been doing with this song lately, but to my ears, the intro seemed completely fresh and something I’d never really heard them do with “I-man.”
At this point in the night, my buddy Jon and I were starving, so we decided to take advantage of the kitchen being open late. We grabbed some great grub during the encore, which was a fairly straight-forward take on “Rockafella.” Overall, this was a really fun show, but nothing all that mind-blowing compared to what I have seen this band pull off in the live setting in the early part of this decade.
As I said earlier, the band gave a copy of their new EP to everyone at the show on their way out. I think I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on it a bit here. There’s something interesting going on with this new EP. The new songs they are writing these days have taken a step in a very different direction, which has a lot of old-school/hardcore fans scratching their heads. Personally, I’m a bit mixed on the overall evolution and a bit more forgiving when bands try something new. I’ve always respected the Disco Biscuits for being original and doing their own thing. I also think that fans easily forget all the many odd/misguided sonic experiments that the Disco Biscuits have undertaken in the last 10 years. Songs didn’t always work perfectly from their early beginnings. In fact, you’d almost expect some songs to fall flat and need to be re-worked after their initial debut, because the stage has always been the band’s best testing ground. “Save the Robots” is a prime example of a song that was debuted and then shelved for a while before it eventually morphed into one of the bigger tunes in the band’s arsenal.
But this On Time EP is probably the most blatant turn towards the mainstream I think I’ve ever seen from any jamband. The EP’s title track, “On Time,” sort of epitomizes the new direction. It has pop club hit written all over it and basically amounts to a cheesy dance tune of the R&B/Hip-Hop club variety. It seems purposely designed for Top 40 radio with its vocoder-laden vocals and almost laughable lyrics, which I can only describe as “techno-sexy.” With that said, this song is catchy as hell! The chorus has been stuck in my head for two days straight, and it’s got me thinking that it could even get some decent radio/club play if it were marketed properly.
Of course, the Disco Biscuits have never been that kind of band, but maybe they finally figured they’d give it a shot. Hey, if you’re a successfully touring band of the jamband variety that isn’t known for albums, why not try something completely different when working with a studio release? Why not aim for top 40 when you’ve already got the touring thing locked up? Why not try to make the most “bangin’ single” for the clubs? Fuck it, right?
The Disco Biscuits might just be onto something with this new studio approach, but I am still very mixed on the actual execution in terms of the songs. They may just be a bit too cheesy and too blatantly top 40 for this band. And even if they were successful at pulling in some more mainstream fans, I’d wonder whether those new fans would really dig the band’s live shows. Won’t the long jams, guitar solos and sub-par vocals just drive them away? Who knows.
Either way, it’ll be interesting to watch how this unfolds over the next few months. Their fans across the spectrum seem to be a bit perplexed….and that may be a bit generous given some of the negative reaction I’ve seen on the message boards. But overall, I like the fact that they’ve got their fans talking — whether it’s negative or not — because it means they’re keeping things interesting, challenging themselves and their fans, and generally trying to push the envelope. Besides, as long as they keep playing amazing live shows and don’t totally change their game, I just don’t see their hardcore fans turning away in droves…because once a Bisco fanatic, always a Bisco freak.
You can view the full photo set here.
The Disco Biscuits @ Brooklyn Bowl, 10/11/09 (setlist via PT Bisco)
Set I: Loose Change, Pimp Blue Rikki> Mindless Dribble> Minions> King Of The World> Mindless Dribble> King Of The World
Set II: On Time, Save The Robots> Basis For A Day, ¿Donde?, Mirrors> Save The Robots, I-Man