Magical St. Petersburg Night: Disco Biscuits, Row Jomah, Dr. Bacon, and Boxcar Hollow Trio
THE DISCO BISCUITS at Jannus Live
Disco Biscuits photos courtesy of Jeff Moellering/snapzalot.com and Tampa Bay Music News
The Disco Biscuits lit up Jannus Live in St. Petersburg December 12 as part of their four-night Florida run. The first set contained this amazing sequence: “The Very Moon > Anthem > The Very Moon > Tempest > Air Song (unfinished) > Rocket Science > Voices Insane.”
It was perfection from the very start of “The Very Moon,” all four members in complete electronica lockstep. Aron Magner on keyboards added lots of electric piano to his synths while Jon Gutwillig’s fluid guitar runs helped establish the trance. And Marc Brownstein (bass) and Allen Aucoin (drums) created a magical foundation for everything that was to build.
“Tempest” and “Air Song” are tunes which have appeared a couple times a year since they were first played, and “Rocket Science” is a brand new tune that debuted 11.15; this was its fourth time played. The jams through these songs were a perfect stew with different flavors bubbling to the top from time time. Perhaps it was Gutwillig’s trance-y guitar or Magner’s synths or his piano. Aucoin was relentless, pushing the pace, tension and release, with Brownie’s rock-solid bass punctuating the beat.
Gutwillig was using his hollow-body guitar, getting gorgeous fat tones and great fuzz effects at various points throughout. During “Rocket Science,” a very spacey jam, Magner’s keyboard mimicked a marimba, Aucoin attacking his electronic drum pad. Brownie was the constant here, before Gutwillig stepped back in with a trance figure that morphed into a long closing “Voices Insane.”
A dynamite set one; what would transpire in the second?
The quartet from Philadelphia built the set slowly, starting with “Hope,” a Gutwillig tune which first surfaced in 2000 and appeared on Señor Boombox (2002), with Gutwillig on vocals and Magner backing. Eight minutes later, it worked its way into the 2007 composition “Minions,” continuing to build strength. Its riff was reminiscent of “I Can See for Miles” initially, Magner on electric piano as well as his various other synths and keyboards.
Then all hell began to break loose. You could feel it. The Biscuits entered a jam that lasted an hour. It was still “Minions” for a while, with Magner’s synthesized voice repeating the song’s refrain “floating in space.” During the hour, we were reminded why The Disco Biscuits are preeminent in the jamtronic field. Throughout the hour, each member’s strength shone through. Trance-dance, trance-fusion, regardless of description, it was stunning.
There is never enough attention given to the brilliance of Gutwillig’s guitar playing. His style often reminds of jazz guitarist Grant Green, each note ringing clearly. His beautiful trance guitar led the jam out of “Minions” and into an inverted version of “The Great Abyss.” Then Brownie stepped up, his tone so big and fat. When he started dancing back and forth and hopping around, it seemed the catalyst for more. Meanwhile, back at kit, Aucoin laid down a continuous jamtronic percussion bed, simply superb. There was a beautiful spacey breakdown and then build up.
Tension and release occurred over and over as the jam eventually rolled into “Tractorbeam Jam.” This is a new addition to the Bisco oeuvre, recalling Tractorbeam, a Biscuits “side project” without vocals. This was titanic. It blew up with Daft Punk’s “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger,” Magner on the synthed voice. His electric piano throughout this segment was truly gorgeous. (“Tractorbeam Jam” first appeared on this tour 11.14 and appeared during the second set in every show except the two in Syracuse.)
At some point during the jam, Gutwillig switched back to hollow-body guitar and continued to crush as they drifted into a short version of “Tricycle” before the opening notes of “Run Like Hell” had the place in pandemonium. When they finished, Brownie looked to the side, then said, “We’ve got four minutes left. We’ll try to fit in a short one.” And we heard another brand new tune called “Station” that debuted 11.15; this was its fourth appearance in a setlist.
[ONE: The Very Moon > Anthem > The Very Moon > Tempest > Air Song (unfinished) > Rocket Science > Voices Insane; TWO: Hope, Minions > The Great Abyss (inverted) > Tractorbeam Jam > Tricycle > Run Like Hell; E: Station]
ROW JOMAH and DR. BACON at Ringside Cafe
Meanwhile, next door at the Ringside Cafe, Row Jomah, an excellent band from Clearwater, delivered a fine set of their original music. Band leader Joe Roma was in fine voice, and Mel Walsh was shredding with his usual abandon. Myles Dunder of Dr. Bacon joined in on saxophone earlier in the set, and Bacon’s Michael Crawford also jumped up to add some harmonica.
They were followed by the sheer insanity that is Dr. Bacon. This septet from Asheville just ain’t right, which is what makes them so darn much fun. Sometimes there were three guitars, sometimes one plus baritone sax (and tenor). Jackson Weldon was a beast on lap steel and mandolin, and the vocals were killer. In addition to tunes from the band’s excellent new album Fast and Loose with the Essentials, they threw in some fine covers, including a massive “Ride Me High.”
BOXCAR HOLLOW TRIO at Mandarin Hide
St. Petersburg is rockin’ seven nights a week, and around the corner at Mandarin Hide the Boxcar Hollow Trio were holding forth. This band is truly outstanding, starting with a base of Americana and Grateful Dead and rapidly expanding in many directions. In the half hour I was there, they romped through a great long cover of the 1958 gem “Don’t Let Go” that has been covered early and often. It built on the Jerry Garcia version, led by Matt Weis on guitar and vocals. I would contend there is no better musician in the area than Chris Barbosa, a superb violin player (OK, fiddle, if you want). This night, he was doubling on keyboards and killing that, too.
Weis immediately swerved into some gorgeous powerful jazz, Barbosa on violin. The star of this jazzy jam was double bass player Jack Pieroth, whose every note provided the foundation for what was to come. Slowly, methodically, Weis steered the jam into the loveliest jazz instrumental take on “My Favorite Things.” Stunning.
From there, the trio swerved again into country, a truly country version of “Dead Flowers,” Weis’ vocals perfect. The final song before I returned to Ringside was a band new band original (no name yet) squarely in Americana range.
The ginormous Christmas tree didn’t play a single note.