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
I have seen Galactic on numerous occasions, mostly at festivals or opening up for bands like, Widespread Panic. I always enjoy myself but I can't say their shows have ever been consistent. Yes, they are consistently well down and put together but they always seem to have a revolving cast of unknown singers/horn players and they have never left me in that state of total musical annihilation, where I can barely pull yourself from the venue without tearing my hair out. This was my 25th show at the Jefferson Theater in Charlottesville, Virginia and I just want to thank the staff and management for keeping such a great venue intact . This is by far my favorite venue in Virginia. It's always an easy in and out; it has great sound, ample space and friendly security. If you have a chance to check out a show here, do it! You will not be disappointed.
Galactic started that night in standard Funk fashion, horns blaring, drums pounding; the sound was deafening, until my ears adjusted. The name Galactic sells itself. After years of constant touring, they are well-known for what they do within the Jam and Funk communities. After a few songs, a female vocalist with a great voice and long legs, shoved into tight black pants, came onstage. I couldn't really understand the lyrics to the songs due to the microphones mix and the high gain bass drum but I am not that familiar with their catalogue of songs, unless they cover standards in Rock, Funk, and Jazz. The female singer had great stage presence and this was my first time seeing Galactic with her as the singer, I was not unimpressed. I will say that Galactic always chooses a less well-known singer, who can really belt-it out. I like that because it gives fresh flavor to their songs and allows them to do a variety of covers. But I can't help but thinking that a stable front man or woman would be very beneficial for Galactic.
The songs that included the female vocalist seemed more, Pop-Funk oriented and I enjoyed their deep, dark Jams much more. Many times they took the music into Jam territory but when the opening band, Con Brio joined Galactic on stage, the horn section took over with jazz standards, trumpet and sax solos that all had that improvisational flare and a spectacular, wall shaking build up. I was really impressed with Galactics sax player Ben Ellman, who also plays a mean harmonica, an instrument that needs to be included more within the Jam music scene. They covered a few songs, my favorite being a funky, faster rendition of “Like A Rolling Stone” which they diversified in many ways.
The heart of this band is obviously Stanton Moore's hard-hitting drum beats and no one can deny his prowess on this instrument. While his sound is very original and powerful, it is also very muffled and full of gain, something that puts the drums upfront in the house mix and it just hurts my ears. The guitarist Jeff Raines is a standard funk/rhythm player who looks remarkably like Andy Richter, late night talk show host Conan O'Brien’s sidekick. I couldn't help but picture Richter jamming these funk tunes onstage. There were a handful of times where the guitarist lit some solos up, mostly during improvisational moments. Galactic wouldn't be a band without the core players, Stanton Moore-Drums, Ben Ellman- Sax, Rob Mercurio-Bass, Andy Richter/Jeff Raines-Guitar; this is essentially Galactic and any other musician would be hard-pressed to try and replace these members.
Galactic can truly jam out and they use improvisation techniques as well as any band I have seen live. After talking to a few friends who had recently seen Galactic on this winter tour, I realized that the song choices were basically the same, the real difference was the improvisational qualities, especially within instrumental soloing. I find Galactic to be more of a Pop-Funk outfit but there were a few times where they got dark and introspective, reminding me of their history and roots in New Orleans. NOLA music is joyous and exuberant but at the same time mysterious and haunting. This is the funk that really touches my soul, that dirty, deep, cajun-zydeco, funk that crawls on its belly out of the swamps of Louisiana to infest your ears and bore into your brain. Now that's the funk…
Jam Band Purist
Me and my uncle went riding down to see Melvin Seals and JGB in Charlottesville, Virginia. (I have always wanted to use those lines.) This would be the first show with my Uncle Aaron, who has been a Grateful Dead fan for decades and attended numerous concerts in the 1980’s-90’s during their resurgence into popular culture, but his love for JGB is actually what I remember most. I specifically recall sitting in his old car, popping in a cassette, JGB live and he would tell me, "Melvin Seals organ riffs are what make this band, Jerry is great but Melvin… " he spoke with pure elation and I never forgot that moment or the look on his face, the sparkle in his eyes; he had that same look that night at JGB. My uncle's love for JGB and the Grateful Dead is one of the many reasons I have chosen this musical path. Music is in my blood, it is in the spirit of my family. My uncle, of course has incredible stories from the 80s Dead lot which seem like urban legends but you know they are just crazy enough to be true. When I saw the JGB was playing close by, I jumped at the chance to go with my uncle and see Melvin tickle the keys.
The easy trip over the mountain would set precedent to the entire evening's occurrences. The band didn't leave us waiting for long and after Snowmaggedan 2017 flopped, here in Virginia, it was great that the show wasn't canceled and we all had a place to boogie down. The crowd was calm and collected. It was an smooth concert experience from the very beginning and that's just what my uncle needed to get him back into the game. We found great seating up front and the band began with a joyful, "How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You" which gave the crowd even more positive energy and reinforced the easy-going feeling of the night. My uncle was quiet at first, taking it all in. He commented on the lead guitarist’s Jerry looks like guitar, which I confirmed was a “Tiger” replica. I went down front to get a closer look at Melvin and his band. Melvin was decked out in a full red Velour jumpsuit, he looked absolutely magnificent. I couldn't stop thinking about Melvins B3 Hammond and the thousands of miles it had traveled. It looked old and worn and was likely much older than me or many in the audience. It's has a history all its own, and with Melvin manning this mammoth, it is a force to be reckoned with and the only thing smoother than the riffs coming out of that B3, was the crushed velour track suit Melvin was wearing.The only band member who seemed to keep up with Melvin was the guitarist. When he would solo my uncles eyebrows would raise and I could see he was impressed, which in turn impressed me. Finally, he looked over at me and asked, "who the hell is this guy?" I whipped out my phone and furiously searched the internet for the guitarist's name but could never find it until after the show, when I met him in person. Zach Nugent takes the brunt end of the work with JGB, at this point the guy is JGB; singing and playing like Jerry, reminiscent of the early 80s period. Zach carries this band on his shoulders, taking over for Dave Hebert. who is undergoing rehabilitation for having “too much, too fast.” While Melvin is a phenomenal player, he does exactly what he is supposed to do as a keyboardist, stay in the back and crush solos.
They played a reggae filled “Stir It Up.” Melvin making his keys sound like a Marimba, modulating as they continued on. It was a beautiful thing to witness as a musician and they had it worked out very well. My uncle seemed to really enjoy the slowed-down "Catfish John." It was rooted in gospel and it would mark the first time I had even paid attention to the female vocalist on stage.They added great vocals on “If I Had The World To Give” but Zach still sang with such passion and conviction, that I felt transported into the presence of Jerry himself. This band is very together musically and have taken a lot of time and effort to get this music just right. The band did a great cover of “Evangeline” and by that time my uncle was commenting of the crowd waving back and forth, having flashbacks from his younger days.
My uncle raised his fist high into the air and proclaimed, "I want to tour with Melvin Seals!" The band did some improvisation and jammed out, with Zach leading the way; wrangling the band together and bringing them right back in sync. Great transitional work from song>jam and then back again.
I would have to compare JGB to DSO in that they push the envelope of what this music is capable of, while still enhancing and keeping the tradition of JGB/GD/Jerry alive. The Jerry associated members are just icing on the cake.
The band took a short, 15 minute set break, which is almost unheard of but very welcomed. Coming straight in with “Second That Emotion” a JGB staple. Next a “Stoned Me” that really got me in the feels; heart and soul.
Which lead into a transcendent “Here Comes The Sun” that came from blazing Jerry licks by Zac. This song seemed to capture the true Jerry Garcia sound and even encapsulated Grateful Dead vibes within it. Hearing these songs that night reinforced my thoughts on the importance of 1950s rock and roll music to Grateful Dead jams; the use of these early sounds are inherent in the Dead's complete great American Jams. The whole venue belted out “Promised land” at the top of their lungs. “After Midnight” was superb, a stand out solo by Melvin, showing exactly why Jerry called him "the Master of the universe." I felt as though they could have taken the improvisation much further but they still got introspective and dissonant incorporating, “Eleanor Rigby” into the jam.
This was easily one of my favorite concerts of the year so far. Sometimes it's not always about face melting, mind blowing music, sometimes what's important how easy things can be. This was hassle free ,goods times with my family and just one of many concerts me and my uncle will be going to see together. I am extremely impressed with Melvin but even more so with Zach Nugent, who is welcomed to the Jam world with loving arms, as long as he keeps shredding that guitar.
The Spirit of Jerry is Still Alive,
JBP on JGB
Back in Richmond Va for Jazz is Phish, this time with the addition of Felix Pastorius, son of famed bass player, Jaco Pastorius. Felix is an amazing addition to this lineup and I was excited to see him perform. If you haven't seen Jaco, get on Netflix right now and watch it, it's one of those documentaries that change your perspective on music and specifically how the bass guitar was played.
I had only seen Jazz is Phish once before this show and I had a great time dancing with friends and socializing to Phish songs, but this time seemed different. The band seemed more together musically, and from the very first notes, I knew this would be quite a different experience.
The band began steadily, taking “First Tube” into spanish territory, with hip shaking, salsa sounds and rhythms. It was a great way to get the show started and more people seemed to pile in as the song raged on.
The band went into an eerie and slowed down, “Story Of The Ghost.” The horns seemed stiff but they worked through it, huddling up and talking it out. Stand out solos from keyboardist, Josh Thomas who always seems to be the life of the party, grinning and having a good time.The horns blast in with, “Carini” my favorite Phish song, they really made it their own and I just love to hear “Carini” anywhere, anytime. “Lawn Boy” was next, which seemed slower than the original, with added jazzy undertones.
“46 days” was led by the horns, with solos, true to the jazz standard. Felix filling in wherever he can like a true professional, sitting in the back, being inconspicuous but his prowess as a bassist is unquestionable. His playing ability drove the other members to try even harder and to play at their very best. Great onstage interactions between Felix and Josh, calling each other out when they missed notes and just genuinely having fun; this resonates with the audience. When the band is having fun, so is the crowd.
Not a bad “Wilson,” it always seems to get the crowd participating and who can’t help but yell, “WILSON! WILSON! WILSON!” but the horns need to do more work! A fairly straightforward, “Weigh” into, “Moma Dance” which seemed like the crowd favorite, as I was pushed to the back of the venue by some butt play; a random drunko trying to do, “The Bump” with me; talk about personal space invader! This guy couldn't keep his hands off me; I guess he liked what he saw. I however am not into ogrish, unpleasant churls.
I can't imagine how difficult it must be to play covers and try to morph them into something familiar but at the same time completely different. Jazz is Phish not only covers these songs but they jam them out, as if weaving in and out of the song like a spider making a web, perfectly placing every strand where it needs to go, taking pieces of each song off into different directions from the focal point, or the composition itself. I'd truly like to see what the Chase Brothers could do with their own songs and arrangements.
During “Bathtub Gin,” the horn players kept having an onstage pow wow, I even saw the trombone player tell the Trumpet player, “This is Bathtub.” I guess thats how different each song can be, and perhaps they were taking it so far out, that even the band members didn’t know where it was going and that's what true improvisation is all about. “Bathtub” turned into a great afro-beat-like jam with a great sax solo reminiscent of Fela himself.
I am not sure what the next song was, I believe it was an older instrumental Phish song but the band went into the most traditional jazz swing that I have heard them play, it sounded reminiscent of Weather Reports/Jacos “Teen Town.” The similarities were undeniable and Felix took a long solo that had me awestruck. I couldn't help but yell out, “TEEN TOWN!”
“Gumbo” got all Pink Floydish with Matthew Chase shredding it, showing off his guitar chops in various forms throughout the performance. The core four of Jazz is Phish that night were so tight and together: bass/Felix Pastorius, drums/Adam Chase, keyboards/Josh Thomas, Guitar/Matt Chase, I applaud all of you. They were so in sync with one another musically and mentally, it truly showed. Great work all around.
Encore: “Julius” No notes needed.
Talking with the guys after the show Adam Chase and I were discussing Felix and his natural abilities on the bass. “He is one of my favorite bassist to work with. I would take him over some of the most well known bass players in the world, as a drummer he is always right there and knows exactly what to do next, instinctually. Felix takes this band to the next level.”
Felix Pastorius towers over me and I'm 6'2. I was eager to meet him and express my astonishment at his playing ability. He seemed reserved and humble. I hope that Felix joins more Jazz is Phish shows and perhaps we will even see him enter the Jam Band scene more regularly. I embrace him with open arms and include him in my top bass players to see live.
With a new album out, Jazz is Phish is really pushing to get recognized and they should be. When I can't get my Phish fix, I will surely go to Jazz is Phish for a taste. I hope to grab a copy of their album soon and I may possibly do a review, we shall see what the future holds. I know Jazz is Phish are going to be gaining a lot more followers and supporters if they continue to play like that. If you love Phish and horns then you have to check this band out.
May The Jam Gods Be With You,
No BS Brass Band Review: (A Party In and Around The Stage)
Another local show at Clementines in Harrisonburg, Virginia. No BS Brass from Richmond, Virginia has been getting some more significant exposure on the East Coast. I decided to give them a shot while they were close and see what No BS was all about.
My friends in Judy Chops opened up and I always enjoy their style of Rockabilly-Swing. They are a staple in the local music scene and it is awesome to see them grow personally and musically. The female vocalist Molly, combined with Rev Bills raspy undertones makes this band a fun, hip shaking time. I try and see them any chance I get and support them. Check them out if you are interested in more. http://www.thejudychops.com
Clementines is a quaint little venue, filled with quirky hipster art. I attended this show alone and saw a few familiar faces but mostly just college kids that have migrated down from Northern-Virginia, living the "country life" for a few years.
I've been into horns for years and I find myself increasingly interested in the sound they produce. I figured I couldn't go wrong with a "brass band" and I am assuming the NO stands for New Orleans or just No is general, and the BS stands for bullshit so, I hoped they'd bring it.... after a lengthy set-up process, they did.
The band consisted of 11 horns and 1 drummer. They immediately came out blasting their horns into the audience, the members were from all walks of life. The band members diversity was one of the coolest parts about the group. Some of the guys set up on the floor in front the stage and they all played into the crowd taking turns on the mic for their solos.
Every member has their own personality but they are all grooving in their own way.
The trumpet players seemed to be channeling Miles Davis throughout the night but always bringing back those funky choruses, when there wasn't lyrics there was chants from all the members.
No BS covered Led Zeppelin’s “The Ocean;” all horns, one drum, hitting all the lines and solos, bringing the crowd in for audience participation and ending with a rousing, “Black Dog”
Let's be realistic with 12 members their barely paying for the gas money to make it to this show. I try and support groups like this and after hearing
“3am bounce”a gritty hardcore song off their new album, I liked it enough to buy their cd, which can be found here. http://www.nobsbrass.com/ and check out this video from NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEjNggZsWow
In my opinion, the trombone is one of the most underrated instruments of all time and NO BS makes up for it with 5 of them.
One of the trombone player Lit up the mic with some crazy rap; I'm not sure what he was talking about but he was the last one you would expect to be rapping on stage. He was a middle-aged white man with style and swag, I think thats the word?
There nothing like an 11 horn drop no mics needed and a plunger in the horn hole. I'm not a rap guy but I can take this medium a little more especially when it’s mixed with covers like: “Everybody Wants to Rule The World,” “Take on Me,” and even “Thriller.”
With No BS Brass band it's surely a party in and around the stage. I hope to see them again soon and I think we will all be hearing something from this band.
Still Feeling Those Horn Blasts,
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Editor: Robert (R.A.) Fadley
Freelance Writer, Musicologist, Music Journalist, Music Critic, Music Writer, Author, Musician, Singer-songwriter, Composer, Guitarist.