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Monday, March 27

Twiddle with Aqueous Review: (A Purists Confession) "Twiddle me this Batman" by Jam Band Purist

Twiddle with Aqueous Review:  (A Purists Confession) "Twiddle me this Batman" by Jam Band Purist 

If you are familiar with the Jam band scene and the culture that surrounds it, by now I am sure you have heard of Twiddle, the Vermont based band that has been gaining notoriety and national attention for the past few years. But along with notoriety comes a great deal of criticism. Let's be honest with one another, Twiddle is a great example of a newer Jam band that everyone loves to hate; while some are adamantly saying they are the next big thing. The debate is extremely heated and Jam band fans love to play that, "Peace, Love, Hippie” card but when it comes right down to it, many of us can be the most critical/judgemental group of musical lovers out there ie: any Twitter/Facebook feed about Twiddle. I have seen the nastiest, most vile comments being said about them and I will admit when I heard about them five years ago, I scoffed at their name and made plenty of jokes but I never forgot it. I later, lightly delved into their catalogue and was unimpressed, perhaps I set them aside too quickly, passing judgment upon their name and vocal qualities only but none the less my opinion was set in stone. I even skipped their set at last year's Lockn’ Music Festival because it was just too hot to enjoy anything. Five years later, I can't stop hearing about Twiddle and I finally gave in. This is an equitable and formulated opinion on the nights events. This is the truth or how I see it.

I'm going to come right out and say it, I do not like D.C. The traffic, the crowds, the confusing road system and the three separate law enforcement agencies that roam those streets. I get stressed out driving, parking and dealing with all the drama that is the city but it had been 10 years since I had seen a show at the 9:30 club and I wanted to see if anything had changed, nothing had. My immediate thought was that the 9:30 Club could use a makeover. The outside of the building looks ragged and needs an extreme facelift. It doesn't look as much like a venue as it does, a homeless shelter or liquor store. Inside things were as I remembered and I had no issue with security, sound, or any other problems at all. In fact, I was very impressed with the sound quality and mix from the soundboard. The venue was fairly clean and security kept to themselves. 9:30 club was a fine venue but getting there is tough, unless you're in the city already or live there. Maybe next time I will take the metro but it usually closes too early to see a late show like this one, which started at 10:30 and ended well past 2:00 AM.
As much as this review is going to be centered around Twiddle, I want to touch on the opening act Aqueous, who I am very impressed with and will be doing a full review and possibly an interview with them in the future. They're high energy stage presence, combined with their technicality and songwriting capabilities, make them a force to be reckoned with in the Jam scene. Obviously taking many progressive changes and cues from moe. their songs are creative and well thought out. The lead guitarist, Mike Gantzer really shreds and I don't say that lightly; he uses melodic and pentatonic scale's perfectly, reminiscent of Chuck Garvey himself. Their breakdowns and crescendos are again, reminiscent of moe. Which I very much enjoyed. Gantzer is versatile and funky, while the drummer stays on point and the keyboard player/guitarist can belt out those high notes. 

Mihali, charismatic lead guitarist and vocalist from Twiddle, could be seen on the VIP balcony of the 9:30 club raging, fist in the air while Aqueous began stepping it up musically, showing off in a little friendly rivalry between bands. I love to see this, this is what it's all about, not competition but trying to show one another up; just like jazz tradition, it's all about talking trash and pushing each other to new heights musically. Mihali throws his fedora down to Gantzer as a show of respect but also saying, challenge accepted, his goudy silver studded belt shines in the light above. Aqueous has thrown down the gauntlet and would be a hard band to follow even for Twiddle.

During the band's change over, Mihali is seen again on the balcony looking over the crowd, much like a pirate surveying his ship and crew. The similarities between Mihali and some sort of rogue pirate of the seven seas was extremely apparent to me that night and has stayed true since. I laughed to myself when they brought out a golden microphone onstage just for him. OK, so maybe I'm being a bit harsh but come on, a golden microphone, maybe Elvis or an Arab prince. Mihali appears flashy: jewelry, an assortment of hats, all the accessories. Yes, he can dress like SRV’s lost child, pulled from the hull of some wreckage off the hawaiian coast but can he shred? I would soon find out. 

Twiddle did not leave me wondering about Mihali or the other bandmembers fashion statements for long and their sound hit me right in the chest; explosive from the very beginning. The bass player (not even going to try and spell that name) took precedence and his sound stood out among the others immediately. Mihali began to sing and I wasn't quite sure what to think; he sounds like a cross between again, some seafaring character and Dave Matthews. I was impressed with the spanish flavored interlude in the first song that lead into quite an extensive jam. They began very strong in my opinion and didn't let up for quite awhile. The band was having fun together, playing around onstage and having a good time. The crowd's energy was chaotic and wild; I can see why some older individuals would find this audience is unsavory. It was definitely a younger crowd but I saw many older people getting down, as well.
I'm gonna put my foot my mouth and just say Mihali can play the guitar, he has the chops but you're not fooling me, I can hear those Jerry licks from a mile away. Mihali relies on arpeggios much like Jerry Garcia, which isn't a bad thing at all but perhaps diversify the technique and don't get stuck playing in one mode. Twiddle’s sound is intrinsically island/reggae but with a progressive twist. Their jams are thought-provoking and introspective as well as, fun to dance to much like, The String Cheese Incident. Their crescendos/build-ups are very well done and their improvisational qualities are on-par with many mid-level acts out there right now. When they began their slower songs, I didn't pay as much attention and used this opportunity for a break to take notes. Their songwriting in general is not my style. Their lyrics or what I can understand, are relatively unappealing to my darker side. "Jamflowman" seems to be a good example of unappealing lyrics vs great improvisational jams and solos. Their songwriting technique takes on a more alternative rock aspect but they include a variety of electronic and R&B progressions. Mihali could work on vocal delivery and lyrical pronunciation but the crowd knew every word and sang right along with him.

Beyond the silly name, the fashion choices and all the haters online, I tried to put my prejudices aside and really listen to their live sound. Twiddle put on an impressive show, one I would compare with many up-and-coming acts but what makes Twiddle different is their extremely loyal base of fans that believe in them unfalteringly. Their fanbase is getting larger every year and I can see why they are already gaining notoriety in the jam scene/festival circuit. Their talent is apparent and undeniable but Twiddle has a tough road ahead if they want to capture the hearts and minds of the people. I can see a lot of need for growth and maturity within this group but that will happen in time because barred some tragedy, I don't see these guys stopping anytime soon. Poised to gain Phish fans and Deadheads alike, Twiddle could become a unifying factor in our world and while some aren't willing to embrace it, change always comes. While I personally don't see Twiddle being the next Phish or the next big arena jam band, they do bring an original quality to this scene and have already begun to make a lasting name for themselves and I respect that. I would like to see them embrace a darker side of themselves though and let some of those lyrics become more meaningful and powerful. My advice is don't be afraid to make changes and grow, keep being yourself but at the same time stay grounded and humble, not ostentatious or arrogant. 

I am extremely passionate about the scene and the bands that define it, my intentions are not to make fun or to call out bands but to inform and give an honest opinion, while having fun too. Twiddle has room to grow but I see potential and I will likely be seeing them in the future. I look forward to watching them grow and possibly blossom into something greater than they are now. I want to thank both Twiddle and Aqueous for this new show experience and for continuing the tradition of Jam music throughout America and the World.

Respectfully and humbly,
The Jam Band Purist