I am still having a hard time imagining a world without this band. Perhaps my difficulty is rooted in a long and sordid history of seeing Gary Backstrom rip solo after solo, through a variety of configurations of musicians, known to most as Jiggle the Handle and most recently as simply, Jiggle. On Saturday night, May 26th, my journey with this band came to a close. The two and a half hour show at Newton Centre's Union Street Attic was a fitting end to my experience with the band and an incredible supplement to my trip across this great land of ours.
I had about three and a half days to resurrect a childhood on the east coast. Jiggle, no doubt, was a significant player in the 22-act sideshow that was my youth. The first show was a sneaky conniving endeavor (sneaking by the doorman at Bowlers in Wormtown) at the age of 19, the last show was fairly upscale affair, some nine years later, (4.50 for a beer?!) in a posh suburb of the Hub. Each had a trademark that many music lovers have come to know and love; many a winding apex on grooves that seem carved by ancient rivers. The music itself moves even the most apprehensive self-conscious members of the audience, whether or not they would ordinarily shake that thang;
Upon arriving I had the pleasure of greeting the band and crew, one by one. I caught a glimpse of the set list as Aaron, road manager extraordinaire, consulted with the players before the show. Having traveled far and wide, I seized the moment to throw a couple suggestions that were duly ignored. I know better than to take this personally. I anxiously awaited the start of the show, grabbed a Sierra, made small talk, and prepared myself.
Tthe band took the stage and waded into a dissonant jam to warm up fingers, ears and dancing shoes. As Jiggle crossed into the set opener, “Turn Myself Back Home,” a broad smile had to grow on my face. It was a quiet nod in my direction, one that, as a fan, I will be thankful for, for a long time to come because I’ve been gone too long; As the piano solo merged with the first guitar solo, as foothills do the mountain, I could sense the energy within me build.
I am a tall man, and can easily survey a room with the turn of my head. An issue I feel is common to bands within the Jamband genre, is that many folks out at a given show don’t really know what they have walked into upon paying their cover charge. This has long been the case with Jiggle. I have seen crowds watch curiously as the band weaves an intricate fabric of melody and rhythm, especially during runs on the west coast where Jiggle's name and music are nearly unknown. This was fairly similar to the scene I viewed as Jiggle wound through “Turn.”. It mattered not, to me. I closed my eyes and began to find my place within the groove. Within the room itself, that place turned out to be near the fire exit off stage right. The pocket, created by Greg Vasso and Chris Q on drums and bass respectively, had me hitting the downbeat early and often.
When the band picked up the second tune, “Boy in the Bubble,” a holdover from last summer’s Berkfest Graceland set, I recognized what would be my last chance to grab another pale ale at the bar, and dig in for the ride through the first set. With the opening notes of “Break the Light,” another broad smile grew from within and the band did not disappoint. Ballads can be challenging for some jam-oriented musicians, yet while “Break the Light” carries a heavy heart through the verses, the band adeptly engrains optimism as the music peaks towards song’s end.
“The Dragon” followed, as if emerging straight out of the Chinese New Year parade. Moving, twisting, hopping and asserting its presence, the band had to this point succeeded in bringing the room to capacity and was lifting the energy in the room. Followed by another cover, Kool and the Gang’s “Jungle Boogie,” it seemed most of the audience was on to the band’s wavelength and the room began to pulse.
The Boogie merged seamlessly with “Kinka,” another mind-bending groove that wouldn’t necessarily allow the casual observer to really catch on immediately, which in turn merged with “The Story;” to close the first set with appropriate peaks included, jumping from Backstrom's fret board and amplifier with ease. Old friends had arrived, and more small talk carried me through the final ridges and peaks of the set. Satisfied, I grabbed ;another beeyah from da bah;; I was indeed back in Massachusetts.
Strange things occur when a guy goes back home.; For me, this strangeness manifest in crossing paths with ex-girlfriends- three to be exact. I had to put away distant feelings and thoughts, and regroup for the second set. Another quick adjustment and we were all ready to go.
The opening bars of “Walk Right Out Your Door” had me hitting the beat, closing my eyes and turning off cognizant thought for the time being. Much like I imagine surfers off the North Shore or snowboarders in chest deep powder, riding through the second set was truly no time to be thinking, about the ex- four feet behind me, or anything. This was my final trollop through a Jiggle set. This was to be the last five songs I would here from this configuration of musicians. My heart was light, however, knowing that I had already seized the opportunity to be here and now; is, after all, the only way to truly live.
The impassioned vocals of Paul Wolstencroft, on “Give A Little,” provided a flavor that had most of the audience at least humming the refrain, if not outright hollering out loud. Energy and enthusiasm are contagions in small spaces, and the band was feeding from the audience and vice versa. To borrow a phrase from Beats – two generations before many of the followers of this scene were even born, jamming was something left only to musicians on the fringe of obscurity and bop-jazz. Presently, however, jamming is a wave that many music lovers crave in order to release from the earthbound reality that is dreadfully mundane. Had Neal Cassidy been in the room, he would have likely been smoking and nodding with a clenched fist, muttering, "Way out, man!" Had he been from Massachusetts, he probably would have yelped, "Duuuuuude, wicked pissah set, huh?"
An upbeat, “Can’t Get Enough,” with guest Alex Howland stepping in on keys, was again, subtly fitting the moment. As I spoke with the band before the show I tried hard to make no mention of the impending split. Enough has been written on the band’s web-message board, as feelings of sadness abound throughout the Boston music scene, surrounding the band’s plans to move in directions not-Jiggle. Seeing the crowd assembled on this night, the struggle for this third-generation; jamband was certainly not bringing in audiences, not here, at least. A few splashes in the south, and a couple in the west have indicated that the music itself has an inherent draw that freaks and squares, alike, can appreciate in a bar room on a Friday night. The battle, from the outside looking in, seems more personal (and I’m coming at this from the heart).
The band again shifted gears to the melodic with “Everything,” a song that echoes a karmic refrain about the nature of life on this planet. Wolstencroft, again, asserted his prowess for carrying the audience through a journey poetic, while his band mates threw down the rock-solid background, fitting the scene together perfectly.
My last Jiggle song was just as fitting as the rest of the night, and in turn the remainder of my weekend. “Aliento De Vida,” a tune possessing the sing-song edge more common in these latter days of Jiggle originals- “Look around, feel the light come streaming; through on you” This song is one that highlights the very many talents of each player. A handful of solos for each player- Vasso riffing licks of rim shots and cymbal taps; Q rolling over his four string like a marching order of soldiers; Wolstencroft, with fingers nimbly dancing over the keys; Backstrom with timely ascents and memorable nuggets for all to walk away with humming as they drove into the New England rainy night (my buddy Dan was singing out most of the ride home ;ba da da da da da dah;!;, intertwined with a Latin backbone and vocal harmonies (lacking in many of the vocally challenged Jam Bands around,) Aliento capped a superb evening of music from one of my all time favorite bands.
Far and away one of the biggest sleepers in a growing scene filled with youth and, strangely bluegrass, Jiggle has been a staple in the northeast. The accomplishments of the musicians will most likely go undocumented in the annals of music history, yet for the rest of my life, and the lives of many close friends, Jiggle will always remain an incredibly high memory.
What? No encore? Such is the way.
Thank you guys for all you have offered us for these years. You will be sorely missed (and who’s music will Matty be cartwheeling to in the future)?