(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Monday, May 31, 2010

Concert review - Bisco Inferno (Disco Biscuits and friends)

29 May, 2010 (Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Morrison CO)

Every year, the Disco Biscuits host a long format concert/party called Bisco Inferno. This is the second year that Red Rocks has been the venue and this year's show was a great way to open the 2010 season. There was a full slate of musicians: Pnuma Trio, Aeroplane, the Crystal Method, the Glitch Mob, Booka Shade, and, of course, two full sets by the Disco Biscuits.

It was an interesting blend of genres. All the bands have some focus on the dance space, but most of the supporting acts were more club oriented and none explored the same kind of jam space that the Disco Biscuits live and breathe. The crowd was primed, though, and everyone went home with a bounce in their step.

Note: I only had permission to shoot The Crystal Method, The Glitch Mob and the Disco Biscuits, so that's why the other bands don't have photos here.

Pnuma Trio
Pnuma Trio led things off, with a jazzy, dance oriented groove. This solid band has some roots to Boulder, but their music reaches further. Most of the songs are focused on Ben Hazlegrove's keyboards, which are strong. Still, Lane Shaw's drum playing is phenomenal. Complex drumwork, intricate syncopation, and tight shifts are easily dispatched, kicking up the energy. The third member, Alex Botwin, shifts between bass and laptop. His bass playing is solid, able to bounce between a mellower, laid back vibe and a speedy drive as the song demands.

Pnuma Trio had a long set, with plenty of time to get the crowd excited and migrate their mood. The center of their sound was keyboard driven jazz, but the beats and disco elements had people dancing along. They also a lot of time building a more synth-driven trance space that sounded like Ozric Tentacles' more keyboard centric pieces.

It was a strong set. Pnuma Trio was a great start to a long set of performers.

Aeroplane is a pair of Belgian DJs who clearly know how to work a club. Red Rocks, even during Bisco Inferno, is no typical club, but they still worked the beat. They played a lot of break beat grooves, running through a variety of sounds, from sci-fi space groove to industrial to jungle to pop.

The twin DJ approach is a standard technique where the trade offs can really contrast some different styles, creating almost a conversation between the DJs. Vito De Luca and Stephen Fasano are very interesting, but they're too much on the same page musically. They specialize in creating some well crafted builds and smooth transitions. I would have liked a little more personality to come out, but I was dancing anyway.

The Crystal Method
Personality? The Crystal Method have all you need. They took the same dual DJ setup and took it to a new, harder rocking level. A big part of that is the energy: Scott Kirkland works the stage and the music is a lot heavier. Kirkland exhorts the crowd, sings along with all of the songs, and generally provides a strong visual component to the show, even communicating with the crowd with a tablet computer.

The music is a mountain of sound, with a pounding bass and beat. It was a darker feel than Aeroplane, but still hitting the club scene vibe. Their set was a constant flow of music, with no let up. The audience was up for it, though, dancing and responding to Kirkland's challenges.

Their remixes were all over the place, hitting a number of classic favorites, like Stevie Wonder's Superstition, Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love, and Blue Oyster Cult's Don't Fear the Reaper. They were masters at taking these songs and creating something new: trippier and funkier, but also much more danceable. Kirkland and Ken Jordan have different musical approaches, too. So when they traded off, the change in sound was noticeable even if the energy wasn't.

The Crystal Method closed out with their remix of Ocelot's Our Time (Bird Peterson Remix). Sure, that's a couple of levels of remix, but the crazy heavy bass and industrial vibe left the crowd wanting more.

The Glitch Mob
This versatile trio reconfigured themselves throughout their set. Each had keyboards, some drums, and a laptop setup. Plus the Glitch Mob could throw in the occasional guitar or bass if the song called for it. They might start a song with a mix of roles, but then they could trade roles or all switch to percussion. This made for more of a stage show than some of the earlier acts.

Their music had a strong electronica foundation, with an emphasis on sound manipulation. This was firmly dance oriented music, but they could play more than just bass heavy grooves. The Glitch Mob had knack for creating moody instrumentals and trippy soundscapes. They were at their most interesting when the sounds got introspective. The high points were a set of progressive laptop solos, each musician riffing in turn, and the triple percussion section.

Booka Shade
This German duo played in between Disco Biscuit sets. Booka Shade is pretty well known and respected for their techno grooves and club friendly beats. So, it was fairly impressive to have an act like them here in Colorado. Maybe the crowd could have used a break after the first DB set. All they got was the 5-10 minutes it took to get Booka Shade's setup rolled onto the stage so they could kick it.

They played a mix of looping dance grooves and electro-house style music. With live drumming and synth work mixed in with pre-recorded/programmed material, this was somewhere in the middle of the continuum between the DJ work of Aeroplane and the full band based electronica of the Glitch Mob. The mood bounced from trippy electronic grooves to heavier jungle beats.

Aside from the energy of the performance, their stage lighting was really cool. Each of the guys had their own station setup with individual lights and screens. Along with the larger stage lights, these stations strobed and blinked, following the beat with some complexity. This helped Booka Shade turn the entire amphitheatre into a giant club rave. This served as a good palate cleanser between the DB sets.

Disco Biscuits
Bisco Inferno was the culmination of three nights of Colorado shows. Performances at the Boulder Theatre and the Ogden (Denver) served as warm ups for the two long jamming sets at Red Rocks. This wasn't just a concert, though, it was a happening. With costumed audience members, a psychedelic stage setup, and a truly amazing venue, Bisco Inferno was a neo-tribal ritual and a jam bacchanalia.

There had been some concern about Jon "Barber" Gutwillig's wrist holding up (he broke it in March), but it didn't slow him down at all. Still, Chris Michetti joined the band onstage a couple of times, mostly to thank him for covering on guitar earlier in the year.

The Disco Biscuits maintained their reputation as one of the best jam oriented bands around. Their live mix is somewhat Phish-like in terms of musical scope and story -- some of Aron Magner's piano-based song transitions flow just like Page McConnell's -- but the electronic elements and club beats prove that they're not derivative of that scene. The set kicked off with an old favorite, Hot Air Balloon, which eased the crowd into the right mindset. As mentioned, Michetti sat in during Portal to an Empty Head, allowing Barber to cut loose and trade some guitar licks.

The recursive, intertwining melodic lines were hypnotic. Aside from evoking a little Phish, there was a fair amount of angular Frank Zappa intensity and Pink Floyd dreaminess. With some island piano riffing, Mindless Dribble was one of the high points. Marc Brownstein eased into a reflective bass pattern under the vamping that set up the inevitable build.

Typical of the Disco Biscuits, they weren't too interested in trying to push their latest record (Planet Anthem) at the expense of the song flow. So, the first set didn't even include anything from the album. They did play a strong,jazz groove version of On Time in the second set, though.

The stage lighting was phenomenal: bright pattern projections, color-changing, strobing light rings, and tight meshing with the music. This served to make Red Rocks feel like a more intimate venue and emphasized the surrender to the experience.

The second set started with the intricate, melodic jam of House Dog Party Favor. They opened it up with a dreamy interlude, giving Barber plenty of room to shred out (and lose his shades). In fact, he really had lots of room to shine as the set ran on into jam after jam. Heck, they all had room.

Drained after a long afternoon, evening, and night of music and dancing, the Disco Biscuits came out for their encore a bit before 2 am. A funky, reflective Home Again rang out like a final blessing of the crowd. Afterwards, it still rang in my ears during the walk downhill to my car. Shaken (booty) and stirred (head), Bisco Inferno was already becoming a fine memory which I savored on the drive home.

The vibe mutated so much over the course of the long day that picking a single beverage was impossible. Maybe a slate of energy drinks early, something rummy from the islands for the middle, and a spiked Orange Julius for the DB sets.

More photos at my Flickr.

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