By Zac Bardou
Even before the Disco Biscuits took the Hammerstein Ballroom stage on Saturday, Nov. 25, the venerable room buzzed audibly with an anticipation spurred by the performance evidently turned in the night before.
Cabbie-hatted hipsters recanted the Friday highlights to freshman frat pledges whose baseball caps sat at seven o’clock. Glitter-glazed girls in patchwork skirts giddily gave the day-old details to cocaine-brained Wall Street swashbucklers whose shore leave necessarily had not begun until Saturday. Even the assortment of anti-hippies, garbed in football jerseys and bandannas, adorned in epidermal ink, black leather and variously perforating chunks of metal, or even simply outfitted in the innocuous T-shirt and jeans, clamored about the night before and the night to come.
When the house lights finally flickered out and the shadowy shapes of guitarist Jon Gutwillig, bassist Marc Brownstein, keyboardist Aron Magner and drummer Allen Aucoin emerged, the sardines at the Hammerstein erupted in an adulatory roar. The Disco Biscuits opened the show with a drawling and somewhat spooky "Mulberry's Dream," saturated with splash-jazz synthesizer inflections and ethereal guitar string intonations that mimicked the cries of space loons.
A massive two-song sandwich, inserting "Spacebirdmatingcall" seamlessly between the first and second half of "Basis for a Day" came next. The result was a single cohesive piece of music comprising sustained bass rumbles and sitar-toned electric guitar riffs, drum crashes and cymbal flashes like thunder and lightning beneath the probing and roaming beams of the alien starship light-rack, a highly orchestrated prog-rock fugue, reminiscent of Rush's epic "Villa Strangiato," and a sustained deluge of dance-hall drum and bass electronica that evoked Pink Floyd's "Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun."
An expectant hush came over the crowd after the applause died down. Sporadic beeping, whirring and echoing sounds conjured by Gutwillig and Magner finally broke the silence. The tintinnabulation of the band’s instruments echoed hauntingly like the elements of machines, the breath of the breeze and the phantom cries of the spacebirds. The show’s literal and figurative centerpiece loomed.
A familiar guitar warble rang out and, channeling David Gilmore, Gutwillig chimed out the first otherworldly riff of Pink Floyd's super-epic "Echoes." The Hammerstein went ballistic and the grinding Floydian space odyssey unraveled beneath the spacecraft floodlights above like the blossoming of a Gerald Scarfe lily.
Just as the inspirational material does, the long jam eventually slowed and came apart near the halfway point, deteriorating once again into the cries of spacebirds. The band laid down what must have been a ten-minute loop of "echoes," and set it to repeating before finally leaving the stage for the set break, "Echoes" unfinished.
The throng, as though having just woken from a dream, dispersed gradually and groggily to the bar to wait in line for drinks, to the bathroom to wait in line for relief, and finally back to the stage, to simply wait. The loop continued unabated throughout the break, providing a creepily science-fictional soundtrack to the bustlings of a crowd that had many things to attend to before settling back in for another uninterrupted hour or more of mind-melting psychedelic rock.
When the lights again fell dark and the band reemerged, the crowd cheered wildly and cries for the second half of "Echoes" were audible. The crowd pressed toward the stage as the band took up their gear.
Gutwillig's guitar emitted an "echo," and the cheers rocked the building. The other instruments joined the supernatural musical fray gradually and when the loop was finally cut off no one noticed. "Echoes" recommenced as though the band had never left the stage.
It was a profound moment, as the song rolled toward a towering climax that had been inevitable all along. The refrain came and went and the crowd sang along, the groove that followed eased the audience back down to earth and, as though vaporizing on the synthesizer breeze, "Echoes" finally drew to a close, over an hour after it had begun.
As the elated show of appreciation abated, the band took a moment to conference and the savaged menagerie was afforded the opportunity to snap out of an echo-induced dream state, utter an understated, "Holy crap," and get ready for more from the victorious Biscuits.
The "M.E.M.P.H.I.S." that followed reenergized the crowd, and when the song was segued brilliantly into the jubilant "Hot Air Balloon," the fervor of the crowd mounted. The band followed the schizophrenically metal-infused "Mindless Dribble" by segueing into the playfully humorous fan favorite, "Digital Buddha," only to segue yet again, closing out the set with a rousing rendition of "Mr. Don." The three-song suite capped off what had been a furious and unrelenting second set, and the magic of "Echoes" still lingered as the crowd roared its demand for one more.
When the band finally reemerged they encored with an energetic "Spraypaint," and finished up the night with a resoundingly climactic jam that provided a sweet finale to an incredible evening of music. The band took several bows and Brownstein and Gutwillig slapped a celebratory high five as they exited stage left. The lights came up and the after-show house music came on.
Even as many fans began filing out of the venue, slapping fives and raving amongst themselves about all they had seen that evening, still many others remained, dancing to "Electric Avenue," as if in an attempt to hold onto the magic in the air for a little bit longer before leaving behind the venerable Hammerstein and the victorious Disco Biscuits.