The Sinclair, Cambridge MA July 18
Stratton, Vermont – July 19
by Jimm O’D
I had the good luck to see Twiddle twice in a row this weekend, at the Sinclair in Cambridge Friday night, and at Grizzly’s at Stratton Mountain in Vermont on Saturday. This is a band currently at the top of its game by all accounts, and clearly getting better all the time. These two dates showed them at the peak of their power and prowess on both nights, but in different ways. The Sinclair show gave us Twiddle at their most professional, and at Stratton they were at their ‘jammy’ best. Either way would have been a great way for anyone to see them for their first time or hundredth, but to have witnessed both faces of this beautiful beast was my good fortune indeed.
My experience at the Sinclair will guarantee my return any time; this is a great place for live music. The best description of the venue is that it’s a concert hall. It’s not a bar, but has several of them spread around, and it’s not a club or a nightclub. To call it a music hall might suggest something smaller, like a coffee house, but it’s certainly not on the order of an arena or civic center, either. Chatting with Twiddle help-meet Grubby Bean, he called it “a great concert hall,” and that seems the best name for it. The capacity is 525; in another chat, this time with a very friendly and articulate security guy, I was assured that the house does not oversell and makes other efforts to maintain a professional atmosphere. This show, of course, was sold out and at capacity; but it really didn’t feel jam-packed or look as crowded as so many of the Twiddle shows I’ve been to.
A mezzanine runs around three sides of the hall, with adequate depth on two sides for groups to hang together. Directly facing the stage, right above the sound board, a balcony offers extra room and greater depth, but in stages, like stadium levels, so that concert-goers are not left at the mercy of crowd conditions and varying body sizes to fend a view for themselves. Down on the floor, naturally, it’s more of a free-for-all; that’s part of the attraction at these shows: the family cluster of frends down front.
My pre-arrangement had fallen through and a couple of fellow ‘Twiddiots’ came to my rescue (that’s how we roll, here- in another time and place, this would be called getting ‘miracled in,’ but here it’s just frended), so I was running a tad close. The floor was full. I usually like to get right up there, but there didn’t appear much chance of that happening tonight. This will explain my interest in the mezzanine. I noticed a bit of space straight out from the stage, next to Mr. Bean with his audio and visual devices, right above the board.
Grizzly’s at Stratton is more of a bar or a tavern. In fact, it’s called Grizzly’s Pub. Suitable for après-ski in the winter and situated above the ski resort’s main lodge, they provide free music through the summer. The food is good-quality tavern fare, and plenty of tables and chairs are arranged around the place, with room in front of the stage for dancing or Twiddling. This is known to be a place the band likes to play; any time I’ve seen them here they seem to be loose and comfortable. The previous night had been their first time at the Sinclair; that might explain the somewhat more restrained (but no less energetic) performance. The Sinclair was a professional situation, and unfamiliar, while Grizzly’s is a much more casual environment and one the boys know well.
The first set Friday night started with “Doinkenbonk.” This is unusual, in my experience. It is a rambling, diverse, long and very popular number, and it usually comes much later. The song covers a lot of ground, from funkified guitar reminiscent of Jeff Beck’s classic work, through timing changes that would challenge even the headiest 70’s prog-rocker, to four-way vocal harmonies that have become increasingly expert and exquisite in the time I have been coming to know this band. In other places, I have noticed that Mickey’s (Mihali Souvladis, guitarist and main singer/songwriter) voice is maturing- he’s getting a dry quality to his voice, which allows more consistency or stability in his singing. This could be the magic bullet to facilitate a move beyond the ‘jam-band’ genre. After all, isn’t it the vocals that set jam bands apart?
The long compositions and highly integrated diversity of styles that come with the genre can all be accepted to varying degrees by different audiences, and this can all be worked on, worked out, and worked with by the bands and management, but what’s the one thing that really keeps them off the radio? It’s the quirky vocals… in my ever-so-humble opinion, anyway. And what I’m hearing from Twiddle, in terms of vocals, is ever more accomplished and accessible. If Mickey’s voice is coming into its own, or he’s channeling some new energy in this way, it could well prove to be the last piece that will help to break the band to a larger audience.
Just as the last year has proven, as was predicted during the Nice Crispy Bacon Tour last fall, to be their biggest and best yet, the next year looks to be even better. That’s the scoop here: they are on the rise, or, as their current tour is called, ‘In Full Bloom.’
The rest of the Sinclair show lived up to the high standard set early on, as the boys moved through some of their most popular numbers. The starter added more keys than usual, always a welcome treat, then segued into “Be There,” a newer song, and “Cabbageface,” one of their lyrically cute and a rollicking rocker. “Jamflowman” included a lengthy bass solo from Zdenek Gubb; this is always a highlight for me- and it was a nice surprise, so early in the set. “Daydream Farmer,” the opener from their second album (2010’s Somewhere on the Mountain), is a bouncy and popular track with an uplifting melody and lyric. “Wildfire” features drummer Brook Jordan’s lead vocal (another bonus), and “Hattie’s Jam” into “When It Rains It Poors” brought us to a closing section from “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and a break. Not a bad first hour….
From the video channel of Matt Beauchemin Photography
The second set, after starting with “Polluted Beauty,” went down some avenues I didn’t recognize; I needed to wait for a set-list to show up on the iTwiddle Facebook page to help me out. We were treated to an extended jam with some unusual guitar tones, a section of light and snappy ‘clicky-sticks’ from Brook, and a series of innovative clavi-sounds from Ryan Dempsey, the keys man, all leading into a space funk improv and then a loose jazz jam (possibly something called Doctor Remedies) before winding up with sections from their songs “I’m Not Crazy” and “Apples.” All that in half an hour…
“Too Many Puppies” – 7/18/14 – Sinclair
“Syncopated Healing” was a great use of 12 minutes, before doing “Roar Like a Lion” for the first time as a band (Mickey has been doing it on the side) and throwing in another bass solo. From here, they played out the rest of the set in true ‘jam’ fashion, ripping through a thing called “Bronze Fingers” and a bunch of intermingled snippets including “Honeyburste” and “Divided Sky” with “Gatsby” mixed in here and there. During this part of the set, I couldn’t help but notice how happy the guitarist looked, even from up where I was- he looked happy to be here, happy to play, happy to be alive… They referred back to “Doinkenbonk,” from the very beginning of the show, went into “Too Many Puppies,” with Zdenek’s vocal sounding stronger than ever on the Primus song, and back to more “Doinkenbonk” to close it out.
After five minutes or so, the band came out for an encore consisting of “Best Feeling,” a reggae-rhythm written by a friend, with dynamite synth solos leading into some more “Gatsby,” and a big finish with Mickey twiddling some knobs for effects. This section, as with both full sets, delivered Twiddle at their best. The playing was tight throughout; all of the many transitions went smoothly to my ear, and we were treated to a varied and diverse array of the band’s far-reaching repertoire. This would have been a great show for a first-timer (or a video document), as it captured the Twiddle experience perfectly. Plenty of jamming interspersed with separate songs, a bit of banter here and there, and strong, consistent playing throughout made for a professional-quality representation of this vibrant band.
The Sinclair’s lighting system helped, too, similar to what the concert-goer will get at a bigger arena, but on a smaller scale. This augmented the professional quality and made for a more complete, highly satisfying experience.
Grizzly’s was just a blast. The band brought hands-down, no-holds-barred, out-and-out face-melting jamming. This time, I was early enough to get right up front, right next to ‘Frankenphil’ and some familiar ‘frends.’ Mohawk Bob, the band’s other right-hand help-meet came along and smiled benignly, making everything right with the world.
And, what happened next? I’m not sure I can describe it. I can tell you that an hour went by with no breaks in the music. That’s right- move over, Mike Oldfield, there’s a new epic rocker in town. Twiddle played one long, interwoven, complex and completely spontaneous set-long improvisation.
Subconcious Prelude >>> Jam >>> Beautiful 4-Part Harmonies >>>
More Jam >>> Lion King Circle Thing >>> Shakedown Tease >>>
Smoke Two > Legalize It > Pass the Dutchie > Who’s Got the Herb >
Sun’s Gonna Rise >>> More Jam >>> More Circle >>> More Quotes
>>> Back into Subconcious, with The Box woven throughout the set
The show was orchestral, with movements moving through moods and compositional content and improvisational outbursts. Streaming strains of “The Box” replete with other references and reprises and who-knows-what-all else mixed in.
The second set was something approaching my own ideal Twiddle set, and others were heard saying the same. They started with Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” which nobody kills like this band, and went into “Carter Candlestick” from the first album and “Bee Hop” from the second. “Carter” is an older song; this is where the maturing and ‘dry’ quality of Mickey’s voice really came through. “Bee Hop” is possibly their most abstract or out-there piece of free jazz, and one they pull out only rarely; this is where a line of ascendancy can be drawn from Miles Davis through King Crimson and Jerry Garcia and into modern-day Jam music. It’s bona-fide Jazz, though, no doubt there.
Zdenek threw down one his lead bass lines before they went into “Frankenfoote,” then into “Tiberius,” another favorite from 2007’s Natural Evolution of Consciousness. They went off to “Funky Town,” which is just SO much fun to see and hear, before tossing in a “Billie Jean” teaser and coming back to Tibby, then settling down for their new song. They closed out the set with “Be There.”
More rhythmic, almost disco-tronic dance/party music made a great encore, as the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” melded with Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” (further proof that an original band should be allowed to pull out covers) and then led back to “I Want You Back” again. The guys came off the stage sweating and smiling, a lot.
As with the Sinclair show, this would have been a perfect show for the newcomer, or for a video. But what a difference! During one of the transitions in the first set, all of the band members could be seen wincing as the thing damn near fell apart- this would not be a proud moment to show off- but this is part of what makes them a great band and great musicians: they take risks. There were no such moments Friday night; that was a consummate professional’s dream show. Saturday at Stratton was a daring artist’s nightmare, in the best possible sense. They threw down, they jumped up; they played around and were totally human, and they lived to laugh about it. Having survived the experience and shared with the audience, all could be seen to enjoy the bond between band and frends.
Things might be different in a year or two- we’d best enjoy the after-show mingling while it lasts. This band is bursting out beyond just being ‘In Full Bloom.’
From the video channel of bmwfender
Review by Jimm O’D
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