Just like with a studio effort, attention to detail is essential when recording a concert album.
“I think one of the hardest things to do when you release any live album is [to] capture the energy that really only exists at the actual concert,” says keyboardist/singer Aron Magner of the Philadelphia-based jam band the Disco Biscuits, whose The Wind at Four to Fly (Diamond Riggs/Sci Fidelity Records) was released in April.
“You have watts and watts of sound coming at you, and you have the full stage concert experience, the light show, thousands of people and all the energy that they give off. I think with The Wind at Four to Fly, the energy really translates well [to] the disc.”
Each audio element on The Wind at Four to Fly is multitracked, says Magner.
“Every individual keyboard goes into a separate input; the hi-hat mike and the snare mike are all separate, so everything can be controlled and EQd and compressed separately to try and preserve as pristine of a sound quality as we could,” he explains.
“Plus, the producer who did this, Jon Altschiller, does a phenomenal job capturing the energy,” he adds. “Why he’s so good is that he just has a really good ear in terms of being able to hear specific frequencies that won’t clash with others, so he could truly bring out the best possible sound.”
The two-disc The Wind at Four to Fly was recorded over several nights in late December 2004 and serves as a swan song for drummer Sam Altman. He announced his decision to leave following a Biscuits studio session that resulted in a cover of “Gimme Three Steps” for a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute album released that fall.
“It was a great day; it was incredibly productive,” recalls Magner. “Everybody was in a good mood; I was about to hop the train back to Philly; everybody else was doing their own thing around New York later that night . . . [and] Sammy said, ‘Can you not take the train back? I’d like to talk to everybody.’
“His heart just wasn’t in it anymore. He obviously had been mulling it around in his head for a year, trying to figure out if it was the right decision that he needed to make and how to present it to the band. And he decided that the best way to present it was at a time when we were all in a good mood, not coming out of a fight or something like that. He wanted to let us know that this was a life change that he needed to make, not something that was the result of him being unhappy in the band.
“It took us a while to accept it. We went through the 12 different stages — disbelief, anger and everything. We’re all still good friends and wish him luck with everything.”
The Disco Biscuits auditioned about 25 drummers, says Magner, before selecting Allen Aucoin as Altman’s replacement.
“We played two shows in Atlantic City last fall [with the] top four prospects that we had,” explains Magner. “Each of the four drummers took a set, and it was pretty obvious to everybody in the band as well as the crowd that Allen was the No. 1 choice.”
He adds, “There were two epiphanies we had with Allen. The first was his first audition; we flew him up for three different auditions. During his first audition, he nailed ‘Svengali.’ And there was a moment where the three of us looked at each other [as if to say], ‘Wow, this guy is good.’ And that same moment then happened onstage in Atlantic City when we were playing ‘Save the Robots’ — he just killed it.”
The Wind at Four to Fly features extended solos and long songs, both of which are staples among jam bands. Sometimes those characteristics can be a turnoff to mainstream music fans, but toning things down in order to win them over doesn’t seem to interest Magner.
“I think any of the jam bands have always tried to step outside of the box and not be pigeonholed, but the community exudes such positivity and support,” he says. “What other scene in the industry will have droves of kids flying all the way across the country and the world [for concerts]? It’s pretty hard to find that in a fan.
“We’re always trying to capture new fans. I don’t think in doing so do we ever want to abandon the community that’s supported us for all these years.”
— By Chris M. Junior
Disco Biscuits on tour (schedule subject to change):
* June 16: Bonnaroo festival — Manchester, Tenn.
* June 22-23: The Stone Pony — Asbury Park, N.J.
* July 14: Marvin’s Mountaintop (part of the All Good Music Festival) — Masontown, W.Va.
* Aug. 5: Grant Park (part of Lollapalooza) — Chicago
* Aug. 25-26: Hunter Mountain Ski Resort (annual Camp Bisco festival) — Hunter, N.Y.