Charleston Music Hall
To walk into the auditorium at the Charleston Music Hall was to travel through a portal. An obligatory stop at the bar, and we were ready to cross over.
The Disco Biscuits took stage by 8 p.m. and were already firing on all cylinders. The Philadelphia-based jam-fusion act released their fifth full-length, Planet Anthem, earlier this year. The album is an evolution for the band, who opted for shorter, more structured songs. But their live show is a different kind of animal.
The six musicians shared the stage with enough electronics to challenge mission control. Synths, mixers, and pedals were divided up between bassist Marc Brownstein and two sit-in guitarists, playing for the still out-of-commission Jon Gutwillig (playing these riffs with a broken wrist was just out of the question).
An impressive light show shot kaleidoscopic beams through rising fog, forming cotton candy-colored clouds just out of the audience’s reach. And handfuls of glow sticks and headbands were distributed and gyrated around necks and limbs until they were collected as contraband by a despondent member of security personnel. It was a dance party, and clearly some concertgoers sampled the Kool-Aid. But considering that “Disco Biscuit” is a slang term for ecstasy, to walk in expecting much else is unlikely.
The set featured mostly instrumental wanderings and energetic and exhaustive jams that spanned the sonic spectrum. Disco Biscuits treat each progression like a present to be unwrapped and then celebrated. The Joe Satriani-style guitar acrobatics were soaring builds that wouldn’t be out of place on the Top Gun soundtrack.
Mid-way through the show, the group mixed it up with lyrics, delivered in a freestyle fashion to an appreciative crowd. “I think you need to lie in my hammock. Listen to motherfucking Widespread Panic,” Brownstein repeated, as a fan, dual-wielding bubble guns, flailed his arms like he was taxiing a 747.
The band chilled out for stretches, invoking mellow beatmasters Orbital or electro-Krautrock pioneers Cluster. There was plenty of subterranean womping bass, time warp sound effects from ’70s sci-fi, and the uncanny industrial growls of Nine Inch Nails. The light show and music merged into a single assault on the senses.
The Disco Biscuits have been around for long enough to play to the crowd. The knew when to lead them into explosive dancing fits and when to throw in a periodic release when just a simple sway is appropriate. All talented instrumentalists, the value of their live show was how effectively they transported the listener into realms not usually accessible, if not for the power of breakneck beats and neon lights.