Concert Review: Disco Biscuits — A Band Reborn

By Scott McLennan

The Disco Biscuits are playing champion-level shows following a period of rebuilding and recalibrating that brought the band out of semiretirement.

Disco Biscuits. March 15, State Theater, Portland, ME. March 16, House of Blues, Boston

Band shot of the Disco Biscuits performing in Portland. Photo: Sam McLennan

Being a Disco Biscuits fan in 2024 is sort of like being a Boston Red Sox fan in 2004, when the team won baseball’s World Series, which snapped an 86-year drought of championships.

The Disco Biscuits are playing champion-level shows following a period of rebuilding and recalibrating that brought the band out of semiretirement, rewarding the faithful who hung in there through the lean years and welcoming returning fans as well as new ones.

The Disco Biscuits formed in 1995 and enjoyed a top-tier status in the jam-band scene from the late ’90s to the mid-2000s. The band set itself apart from the pack with a techno-influenced sound coupled to an adventurous approach to improvising that owes as much to jazz fusion pioneers as it does to jam grandads the Grateful Dead.

Aron Magner, Marc Brownstein, and Jon Gutwillig performing in Portland. Photo: Sam McLennan

The band then stumbled when it came to generating new material, performing with inspiration in its live shows, and holding its audience. But around 2015, the band started to turn things around, playing more and experimenting more.

Now the Disco Biscuits is in the midst of its most extensive national tour in years as it touts its new album, Revolution in Motion, which will be released on March 29. The so-called “Why We Dance Tour” passed through Portland, Maine, and Boston last week, and the Disco Biscuits looked and sounded like a band fully reborn.

The shows were provocative, both in introducing new material and reimagining older songs. The band members pulled apart and reassembled tunes in ways that demonstrated how effectively they could communicate with each other on stage. It was also a testament to each player’s high level of confidence in his own abilities.

In both Portland and Boston, many in the audience mentioned as they were waiting for the band to take the stage how they had not seen the band in years. Opener Karina Rykman proclaimed from the stage in Portland that Disco Biscuits is in peak form. In Boston, Disco Biscuits bassist Marc Brownstein welcomed all the new fans that came to hear the band. And the music backed up this pride in the band’s ascendance.

Jon Gutwillig performing in Boston. Photo: Sam McLennan

The Disco Biscuits, which in addition to Brownstein includes drummer Allen Aucoin, keyboard player Aron Magner, and guitar player Jon “Barber” Gutwillig, played two sets at the State Theater in Portland on March 15, and two at the House of Blues in Boston on March 16. Each set was an admirable exercise in creating dramatic tension and triggering release, but, that said, each had its own flavor and flow. Hearing the pair of shows underscored the band’s versatility and virtuosity.

The first set in Portland was steeped in rhythmic shifts, from warm reggae tones to steely dance beats. Of the four sets played in the Portland and Boston shows, this one may have had the best balance of patience and urgency. The band masterfully sandwiched an expansive version of “42,” a song that’s been in its repertoire for 20 years, with newer songs “One Chance to Save the World” and “Ring the Doorbell Twice.” The troupe seamlessly blended the old and new by taking a broad view of the arrangements and jams; for example, samples from Tiesto and Sevenn’s “BOOM” kicked in during “42.” Aucoin’s drumming was an intoxicating concoction of electronic tweaks and primal pummeling. Gutwillig deployed flurries of sharp, wiry guitar lines that ranged from funk jams to conversant bebop stylings that played off of Magner’s keyboard work.

The audience’s ovation at the close of the first set in Portland seemed to truly take the band off guard, but it was a genuine response to an inspired performance.

During the second Portland set, the band played long, serpentine jams from which songs seemed to suddenly emerge. The older “Basis for a Day” went on for nearly 30 minutes before the band drew on the newer “The Wormhole” to snap the proceedings into a tighter focus with crisp ensemble interplay.

The Disco Biscuits played Boston on the night before St. Patrick’s Day, which meant that the bars on Lansdowne Street were overflowing with patrons in green Celtics jerseys, many on their way to see the Dropkick Murphys perform at the nearby MGM Music Hall. Thankfully, the Biscuits didn’t pander to the occasion. Instead, the band nodded to Boston’s musical history by dropping a cheeky sample of New Kids on the Block’s “Hangin’ Tough” into first-set opener “Caves of the East.”

Disco Biscuits: from left, Marc Brownstein, Allen Aucoin, and Jon Gutwillig performing in Boston. Photo: Sam McLennan

The Disco Biscuits played with contrasts during the first set in Boston. The electronic music the band plays when performing under the moniker Tractorbeam heavily shaped the show’s opening section; Brownstein didn’t even pick up his bass during the first 20 minutes of performance. He played a synthesizer instead, augmenting Magner’s glistening tones with thicker, darker vibes.

From there, the Biscuits made the surprising turn into what sounded like a hoedown, with Aucoin playing giddyap beats under Gutwillig’s fleet-fingered country-style licks; that led to the arrival of a rearranged version of the song “Shelby Rose.” To close out the first set, the band turned to its classical music influences for a fiery version of “Saber Dance.”

The Disco Biscuits ended its New England trip with a second set in Boston that was steeped in prog rock, from the oddball composition that opened the second set, “Kitchen Mitts,” to the spiky, ping-ponging dynamics of the closer, “Digital Buddha.” In between the band just went flat out exploring and soaring, especially during a pairing of the vintage “Reactor” with a new song, “The Deal.”

Even in the years when the band was not particularly active or inspired, the Disco Biscuits never wanted for talent. What’s back is the passion and, with that, these musicians are forging into new creative spaces.

Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Portland Press Herald, and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.


  1. Blizzard on March 20, 2024 at 11:36 am

    Great article, band is crushing theatres right now!

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