When you talk to a jamband fan about Twiddle, be prepared for a whole range of responses. Some laud Twiddle as the next big band in the scene, while others can be a bit more dismissive. But for better or worse, polarization has always been a big part of the jam realm. Polarization breeds the loyalty this scene is known for. And, the Twiddle fans inside Philadelphia’s Theater of Living Arts on this unseasonably warm Friday night were nothing if not loyal.
It had been a year and a half since I last saw Twiddle. That time gap speaks a little bit to my own feelings about the band since then. But, I eventually gave in to friends’ recommendations and decided to revisit the rising foursome on their Plumpderdump Winter Tour.
The lights went down at 10:30 and Mihali Savoulidis began strumming “Hatti’s Jam.” Immediately there was an energy in the room that seemed to be missing the last time around. The crowd was anticipating the song structure, not reacting to it. A remarkable amount of people knew the lyrics. The atmosphere was comparable to a Phish show, which is no small feat.
While comparing Twiddle to early-90s Phish isn’t entirely unwarranted (lightning fast guitar work, quirky covers and teases, playing in small theaters, etc), there is a lot more going on here. Most notable is the dance-infused dub sound that influences many of Twiddle’s tunes. In “Polluted Beauty,” off Plump, the band’s latest album, Twiddle showed their range. The jam ventured from reggae to funk to rock, and then to the “Braveheart” theme, with Savoulidis singing a portion of William Wallace’s famous speech.
Twiddle then took the beach-dub of bands like Slightly Stoopid and Rebelution to another level on “Lost In The Cold,” another Plump track. The band had navigated a few peaks and valleys, when drummer Brook Jordan and bassist Zdenek Gubb locked into a chugging groove which became a mid-jam cover of Citizen Cope’s “Son’s Gonna Rise.” The relatively rare cover then returned triumphantly to “Lost In The Cold.”
“The FRENDS Theme” closed out the set right at midnight to raucous applause from the packed, hazy room. Keyboardist Ryan Dempsey began the encore with a brief tease of Vanessa Carlton’s “A Thousand Miles,” before Twiddle closed the show with a bubbly cover of Led Zeppelin’s “D’Yer Maker.”
When I last saw Twiddle in 2014, I left thinking many of the improvised sections relied too heavily on similar licks and tricks. In the 130 shows since that night, the band has stepped up their game. Nothing felt cheap at this show. The jams were dynamic; the songs themselves were air-tight.
Those who write Twiddle off as Phish wannabes aren’t looking hard enough. It’s much easier to criticize from a comfortable distance, than to go in and open up to the music. I made this mistake myself.
The scene growing around Twiddle is undeniable. Go see for yourself.