Disco Biscuits & the Dead Bring Life to Gathering of the Vibes
Seaside Park in Bridgeport, CT, played host to the 19th annual Gathering of the Vibes last weekend, a festival devoted to paying homage to the music, culture and legacy of the Grateful Dead. The last band to grace the main stage Saturday night was The Disco Biscuits, a Philadelphia-based electronic jam band. As a special twist, the group was joined by Bill Kreutzman and Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead. A long time fan of both bands, I was excited to see where this musical exploration would go, and they did not disappoint.
The weather was muggy and the air was thick with excitement as we waited for the show to start. Everyone around me seemed genuinely thrilled to be there, as did the band when they came on stage. The energy of the crowd foreshadowed the music–upbeat and happy. Some people were decked out in glow sticks, some in costume. “Rage sticks” were being bandied about, a flag with a peace sign on it, and a stick with a plastic baby glued to the end of it. But most notably there was a large cardboard cutout of the Dos Equis guy wearing a flat brimmed hat. It seemed only fitting that the most interesting man in the world should be attending a most intriguing collaboration.
The Disco Biscuits came on and played the first three songs without Kreutzman and Hart, kicking off the start of the show with “Story of the World.” The pretty and upbeat song instantly turned the crowd into a funky disco dance party. From there, they went into James Brown’s “I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing” bringing out guest vocalist Greg Sherrod whose voice brought a gritty and soulful feel to the song. They ended their run of songs without Kreutzman and Hart with an abrupt sounding “Confrontation.” During the first three songs, and throughout the show, guitarist Jon “Barber” Gutwillig–who was dressed in a gray flight suit that looked like it could be certified by NASA–peppered the songs with blues guitar riffs, perfectly complimenting the musical flavor.
Kreutzman and Hart joined the stage during “Home Again,” which seemed a most fitting soundtrack for their entrance. From there they went into “West L.A Fadeaway” which kicked off a slew of Grateful Dead covers that showcased each person’s talent. The jam into “West L.A Fadeaway” was bass heavy and a little on the darker side, as the addition of Kreuztman and Hart added a complex layer of sounds. Keyboardist Aron Magner highlighted his piano skills, wailing on the keys like a jazz pianist from the 1930s. The slow build up of complex layers of sound seemed to be a theme running throughout the first half of the show. A fast-paced “I Know You Rider” came next, which could be a contender for crowd favorite. Everyone around me went wild as Magner took over singing, belting out “I wish I was a headlight on a northbound train.” The crowd was yelling the lyrics almost as loudly as the band was playing.
The second half the show is where the three drummers seemed to really coalesce. “Eyes of the World” with “Trucker’s Choice” teases came next, with Kreuztman adding an interesting tempo to the song. The ending of “Eyes of the World” into the start of “That’s it for the Other One” sounded a bit awkward at first, but the rest of the song more than made up for the stilted beginning. The three drummers jamming together sounded like a rolling psychedelic sea that the music of both the Grateful Dead and The Disco Biscuits tend to embody. (And it would have been a perfect placement for The Disco Biscuits song “Magellan.”) “Shakedown Street” was up next, bringing us back from the psychedelic space jam of “That’s it for the Other One,” to a grounded funk-fest that had everyone dancing. The transition from “Shakedown Street” to “Viola Lee Blues” was stellar. Gutwillig was jumping around on stage and seemed to be truly enjoying himself.
“I -Man” started more slowly, a pace that was in line with the rest of the show. Even though the “I-Man” was a bit slower, the crowd still had their hands along dancing and jumping along to the chorus. The improvisation towards the end of “I-Man” kept a similar sound to “That’s it for the Other One,” a little dark and psychedelic, but still ended the second half with a high-energy feel that only “I-Man” can bring. The encore “We Bid You Goodnight,” was sung by a choir who were dressed in black robes with gold embossed on their shoulders. It reminded me of the rolling credits of a “Saturday Night Live” episode, as friends of the artists came on stage including Ryan Montbleau and Jen Durkin. Gutwillig acted as conductor as Hart and Kreutzman kept the tempo on percussion. Everyone on stage was having a blast, high-fiving and hugging each other all enjoying this exceptional experience together.
Overall, the set list was well thought out, catering to the variety of fans that were attending the show, and just as thoughtfully executed. Each member of the band added something different but contributed equally, playing cohesively. The encore was the most fitting tribute to such a unique collaboration and turned out to be a most excellent way to say goodnight.
Setlist for Disco Biscuits & Grateful Dead @ Gathering of the Vibes | 8/2/14
Story of the World
I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing
West L.A. Fadeaway
I Know You Rider
Eyes of the World
That’s it for the Other One
Viola Lee Blues
And We Bid You Goodnight