The Disco Biscuits
Friday · Bogart's
The Jam community has certainly embraced Philadelphia's Disco Biscuits over their decade-long history, but the quartet does not easily fit into any clearly defined pigeonhole. The original band — guitarist Jon Gutwillig, bassist Marc Brownstein, keyboardist Ben Hayflick, drummer Sam Altman — met as undergrads at the University of Pennsylvania and each saw so much potential in the band that they all left school to concentrate on their music. Early on, they played college parties and bars throughout Pennsylvania, coming up with a different band name for every show until they finally agreed on The Disco Biscuits as a permanent handle.
The band's early shows were populated with the kind of cover music (Phish, Frank Zappa, Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd) that naturally drew the Jam community to them, but they began peppering their sets with like-minded originals, and The Disco Biscuits' cultish fan base grew accordingly, ultimately inspiring an ongoing series of festivals known as Camp Bisco. (There have been five to date.) In 1995, Hayflick left and was replaced by Aron Magner, who has remained with the band ever since. The following year, the Biscuits self-released their debut album, Encephalous Crime, then signed with Hydrophnics for their sophomore release, Uncivilized Area, in 1998.
Relying on elements of Rock, Soul, Jazz, Blues, Techno, Classical and Pop to create their total sound, The Disco Biscuits distanced themselves sonically from their peers in the Jam scene by utilizing beats and electronic devices even as their fan base was expanding by virtue of their philosophical proximity to the scene. A minor scare occurred early in 2000 when Brownstein announced he would be leaving the band, but by summer he had returned to the fold. In 2002, the Biscuits' fourth studio disc, Senor Boombox, cracked two major Billboard charts, propelled by the band's constant roadwork.
Highlights of the band's long live sets are when they perform "dyslexic" versions of their songs backward and when they haul out one of their lengthy Rock operas.
In 2005, Altman departed the Biscuits to pursue his medical degree; he was replaced by Allen Aucoin. So far this year, The Disco Biscuits have released two albums: the live The Wind at Four to Fly earlier in the year and the studio recording, Rocket 3. Disco Biscuits ain't your daddy's Jam but it will move you in all the right places. (Brian Baker)
Tuesday · The Mad Frog
Though proudly represented as a "100% organic, improvised creation," the music of Boulder, Col., trio Zilla isn't what you'd first-guess upon that description. It's far from stereotypical Jazz, and though members are pedigreed in the Jam Band world, it's not marked by extensive, free-form solos either. Zilla is all about groove-driven instrumental soundscapery, trance-like in its delivery and rump-shaking in its low-end pulse. Making natural, atmospheric Dance music, Zilla has the power to entrance twirlers and ravers alike with mind-melting excursions into futuristic Ambient Funk.
The sounds on the band's first studio album, all iZ, also aren't what you'd expect from a bass/drums/hammered dulcimer lineup. Far from it. Each of the three musicians has multi-instrumental abilities (and each involves themselves in the Electronica feel, with an array of sampler and synth additives), but it's the beat-centric specialties of the core that serve as the music's heart. Zilla's cyclical rhythms get their instigating push from Michael Travis, best known for his drumming with Bluegrass-happy Jam faves The String Cheese Incident (all iZ, was released in September on SCI's Sci Fidelity imprint). Innovative hammered dulcimer specialist Jamie Janover has recorded eight solo albums and also has performed with acts like The Minds, Everyone Orchestra and Mo Realms; in 2002, Janover won the National Hammered Dulcimer Championships. Rounding out the threesome is Aaron Holstein, a veteran guitarist and bassist (he's worked with Boogie Shoes and Future Jazz Project), who also produces electronic music. The common thread between the three players is that each seems to have a reputation not for one particular area of expertise, but instead for being exploratory, multi-dimensional artists unbound by any predetermined expectations.
Therefore, it is no surprise that all iZ is a head-spinning collection of spontaneous collaboration, with nibbles of a variety of genres combining for something refreshingly hard to pin down. Tracks like "Encroaching Phyla" have the swirling Hip Hop mood of DJ Shadow, "Milk Man" features Jazz-like chordal movements, "Waffle Roast" is elastic, psychedelic World/New Age music and "Hidden Raisin" has the flawless tin-can Funk Wave of mid-period Talking Heads. The two-disc album was compiled from 16 hours of impulsive jamming, put straight to tape and then edited and mixed by the band members afterwards. Live, the trio brings the same spur-of-the-moment sensibility, meaning the band is incapable of playing the same show one night to the next. If you see them Tuesday, you can be sure that it is indeed a "one of a kind" show. How many bands can you really say that about? (Mike Breen)