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Who Is Twiddle? Chicago 2017 In Review and Media

Words: Tim Kelly | Photos: Michael Lepek

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There was a time, prior to Twiddle's April show in Chicago that I had only met people who like Twiddle or haven’t heard of them.

When pitching this story for Tomorrow's Verse, I was made aware that others are not shy about sharing their own opinions.  So after seeing these guys four enjoyable times, I went into this show with a little bit of an open mind -- to see what possibly there was not to like.

Which begs the question if you don't fall into either of these camps:  who is Twiddle? 

I like to describe them as a band that Bob Marley and Matisyahu would have put together after following Phish on their '97 tour with only tapes of the Grateful Dead, Yes, and ELP to listen while driving from show to show.  In other words... this 48 year old loves them, despite the age gap.

Their songs can be short and poppy or long double-digit minute monster jams.  Their lyrics cover the spectrum from silly like "Gatsby the Great" (about a duck) to extremely deep life insights found in "Every Soul" or "Lost in the Cold."  

The previous times I have seen this quartet, they opened with one of their more popular songs, followed by an extended jam that stretches out anywhere from 15-25 minutes.  It seems to be their “warm-up” process.  

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in Chicago however, they kicked off with the instrumental “Blueberry Tumble.”  It instantly evoked Steely Dan, showing off the band's jazz influence.  As they all got their initial footing -- there were definitely some points of clunkiness -- but smiles were abundant.  They were having fun warming up, and at one point bassist Zdenek Grubb looked over to drummer Brook Jordan just wording “I love it, I love it”. 

That kind of stuff lights me up as fan.  A band having fun on stage is as important as the crowd having fun.  

"Blueberry Tumble" ended with a quick nod to bluegrass, and quickly went into one of my favorites, “Polluted Beauty.” 

The lyrics to this rapid reggae gem fall to the insightful side and are incredibly pertinent to some real-world worries -- an ecological warning reminiscent of the Grateful Dead/Brent Mydland classic "We Can Run".  The occasional break in fluidity showed at times in this song as well, but the cause became apparent as guitarist Mahili Savoulidis continued to gesture that he was having issues with his equipment.  “Polluted Beauty” is more typical of the opener I’m used to and clocking in at 22 minutes, Mahili had plenty of time to figure out the issue while never truly stopping his amazing guitar-work.  This tune illustrated the guys' ability to pick up a rhythm at any moment and change that rhythm on a dime.  Multiple times.

Next up was another exercise in individual virtuosity accompanied by jamband cohesiveness -- the crowd favorite “Jamflowman.”

First up was Grubb who kicked off his work boots and planted down for some unadulterated bass beat-down, with some help from his rhythm partner, Jordan.

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Keyboardist Ryan Dempsey took the baton from there and reminded everyone that the keys were not just background music.  Some of his solos -- with backing from Savoulidis -- conjures the Yes comparison.  I could imagine Rick Wakeman’s cape looking perfectly in place on Dempsey’s shoulders. 

Finally, Mahali took the ball and ran with it looking like a young Stevie Ray Vaughan with his flat brimmed hat.

If you have heard Twiddle on the radio, chances are the song was "Lost in the Cold."  It's a catchy song with a reggae beat about turning your life around. 

It may be a little corny but how can you argue with "And, yes, I'm scared to right all my wrongs.  But I'll be okay... I'm stronger than I thought" as a chorus?  I have heard this song stretched out to the lengths of the previous ones, but have also heard some short and sweet versions. 

This was the latter, containing a powerful solo from Dempsey which saw him slapping his keyboard like a bass.  And the "short song" run continued with the second version ever of "Nicodemus Portulay."  This song ended the first set with a resounding exclamation point (think Zep's "Immigrant Song") and was a perfect way for the boys to walk off stage for a short break.

The second set was predominantly made up of three songs of 15+ minutes each that covered the spectrum of Twiddle's jamming prowess. 

They opened with the instrumental "Latin Thang", that plays exactly as described in the title.  Mahili now didn't only look like Stevie Ray Vaughan, he sounded like him with a bit of Carlos Santana mixed in.  Similar to "Jamflowman", each member owned a solo.  The keys got a particularly nice showcase as Alex Jordan from opener Midnight North joined Dempsey playing back to back on the piano bench.  

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"Subconscious Prelude" and "Daydream Farmer" followed, mixing lyrics with a similair style of musical "duel".  "Prelude" contained familiar reggae runs while "Farmer" had touches of a show tune sound that Mahali enhances with his quirky little dance moves as he saunters up to the mic to sing.

While Savoulidis seems like the leader, a case can be made for the rhythmn section as well.  Many times during the jams, bass and drums build the beat and shoot Mahali out at the peak like he's being fired from a cannon.  One of the closest comparisons I can make is to Robert Randolph and the Family Band.  They jam quite a bit, but when they hit a groove, they really hit it, and the dance floor will bounce right along with them.  The feeling of oneness with the band is unmistakable.

Similar to the first set, they closed the second with two shorter songs: "Moments" and "Be There".  Both good songs, but a little disappointing way to end the show. 

It made me realize how much I do like the extended jams.  The encore, the newer "The Juggernaut", was one more quick one clocking in at roughly three minutes.  Despite its compactness, its powerful in-your-face explosiveness more than compensated, like if Phish's "Carini" had a baby.

So who is Twiddle?  I'm still figuring out the final combination, but perhaps they are just a little of all their influences.  From reggae to prog to bluegrass to jamband and more -- they're not necessarily a blend or balance, they're everything a full tilt.  And that can be a lot to swallow.

Love them or hate them, they seem to capture the imagination -- bringing lengthy jams and an original approach.  If you're offending nobody, perhaps you're doing something wrong.

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