Twiddle & Universal Sigh 3.31.16
New Mountain Theatre
Words By Julie Hutchins
Photos By Julie Hutchins & Gordon Gellatly
Athens, GA based Universal Sigh kicked off the night with an adventurous set of solid compositions. Their original tunes were well received and infused between flawlessly executed covers of “Miss Tinkle’s Overture” by Umphrey’s McGee, Phish’s “Stash,” and “Hey Zeus, (Que Tal?)” by Dopapod. Aside from being floored by Universal Sigh’s ambitious cover selection, I was particularly impressed at their exploration in beginning each song with a miniature jam. The smidget of improvisation engaged the crowd and was a unique way to familiarize their captivatingly meticulous music. The foursome closed the set with a super groovy, crowd favorite “Atoms & Void” and left the people eager for more boogieing. As an avid disciple I was grateful to witness a large, engaged crowd who showed up extra early to check out the set. The kind attentiveness of the pack is a true testimony to the goodness Twiddle fans radiate. Keep an eye out for Universal Sigh’s debut album Atoms & Void dropping in early May.
Speaking of albums, Twiddle’s most recent album title Plump has perpetually perplexed me. Musically, it is a great album. However, what is the meaning behind the all the plumpness? Why would Twiddle choose this curiously vague theme? Where does Plump originate? Well, midway through the twenty five minute “Polluted Beauty” opener, a mighty Plump realization bopped me right on the nose. A plethora of plump epiphanies continued as the band maintained momentum with a fourteen minute “Subconscious Prelude,” which then segued into a sixteen minute busily, buzzing “Beehop,” and a gargantuan “Gatsby the Great > Big Country > Gatsby the Great” totaling a grand twenty four minutes.
“Polluted Beauty” began with minor chords that ventured into realms of tension. I was shocked to witness the fearless foursome kick off the night with Type II jamming. Mihali and Dempsey shared nice complimentary riffing patterns to feel out the dark space. After creating spine tingling tension, Jordan and Gubb increased the tempo to release the intensity and return to a major scale. The dramatic key change lead to astute synchronization and the ultimate dance jam. After a mind-altering opener, the band kept “Wildfire” concise. However, after a short refresher, Twiddle clearly had no intentions of keeping the songs sweet and simple. “Subconscious Prelude” also featured top-notch Type II improvisation sandwiched between minor depths and major soaring peaks. Surprises rolled in during “Beehop” as Mihali called up local Asheville rapper, Swank Rogers who they met earlier that day. Swank’s hip hop flow made this “Beehop” particularly upbeat and bumbly. The Great Gatsby sandwich began loose, which allowed the crowd and themselves to effortlessly groove. The transition into Bela Fleck’s endearing “Big Country” dropped off into Dempsey and Mihali plucking out single notes of the melody. After dabbling with the sweetness of “Big Country” the jam vehicle continued to roar forward back into the familiar Gatsby riff. Within the fifty minutes of non-stop jamming Twiddle, myself and the energy of the bubbly room was transported through the music into deep realms of bliss. The boys brought me back to Earth and closed the set with a feel good, campfire sing along, “Collective Pulse.” They invited up another special guest, Spiro Nicolopoulos to help send everyone off in absolute ecstasy.
Spiro and Mihali go way back and it was awesome to see the old pals having a blast on stage trading soulful licks. Spiro and his wife currently play in Asheville based band, The Paper Crowns. Although “Collective Pulse” is a newer song, I can sense its potential to become another staple uplifting anthem. The band encored with “Zazu’s Flight” a wonderful tune about burning down with a little birdie. In the spirit of recent events, the song was dedicated to political candidate and compassion activist, Bernie Sanders. The band continued to surprise the faithful crowd by debuting “I Need More Allowance” by The Beets, a fictional rock band from Doug, a TV show almost every 90’s kid knows from childhood.
Overall, I have to classify this show as extra special because they incorporated a bevy of shockers, the band boldly harnessed Type II improvisation, and the dance jams reached indescribable peaks upon peaks upon peaks.
Beyond the stellar performance and incredible musicianship, I was taken aback by the light-hearted, yet genuine lyrics. Lyrics are an important part of Twiddle’s music that makes the quartet stand out in the competitive world of jam bands. After seeing the set, I immediately went home and refreshed myself on their lyrics. After being immersed in the beautiful words, I became aware of Twiddle’s thoughtfulness towards Asheville, a place similar to Vermont in its mountainous vibes and environmental consciousness. I sincerely appreciate any band’s mindfulness to sing songs that reflect the beauty of the Earth intertwined with the paradoxes of the human condition. Twiddle’s music takes on this ecologically serious intent with an attitude of awe-inspired whimsy that I perceive as genuine medicine.
This show was my first time giving Twiddle my full, undivided attention and my eyes were opened, bulging out of my head, plump with wonderment. Mihali fiercely shreds and sustains his axe like no other. Good ol’ Gubb was laying down thick, swampy bass in time with Brook Jordan’s faithful rhythm and delightful harmonies. Ryan Dempsey’s playing was brightly animated and he went above and beyond to please the crowd by wearing a long black wig reminiscent of pre-millennia Cher. The foursome crushed adventurous improvisation with skillful dynamics all while engaging the crowd through playful banter. Twiddle emanated a meditative euphoria in their performance and expressed a gracious attitude on and off the stage. The focused energy was undoubtedly channeled through a connection with the audience’s devoted consciousness. Words fail to express the beauty of community I witnessed through this musical experience.
Upon returning to my senses, I excitedly told Twiddle teammate Mike Bishop, I think finally figured out the significance behind Plump. He was excited for me, but revealed that Plump is a dedication to the tubby bellies the band has gained while being on tour. Here I am inspecting Plump from a metaphorical, mysterious perspective and all along the literal definition was jiggling right in front of my very eyes. This small moment of honesty reveals Twiddle’s rapturing good nature.
Aside from the hilarious abstraction of Plump, Twiddle strikes me as a band that beautifully balances between performing like top dog professionals and divulging the spirit and candidness of a child. The band emulates so many different influences from the mellow reggae vibes to spontaneous jazz scat riffs and ultimate hi-def shred fest, in their own, defining way. I’m interested to keep the rest of Plumptydumpty on my radar. Take a look at twiddlemusic.com for more dates. Be on the lookout for more possible live audio streams. This show was live streamed on Mixlr by the wonderful Mike Bishop and you can listen/download the full set via utwiddle.net. Major kudos to the community for developing such a comprehensive forum of Twiddle information. Last, but not least I must commend New Mountain’s production team, as well as the amiable staff, for creating a cool, welcoming atmosphere. I for one can’t wait to have Twiddle light up the South again!
Setlist: Polluted Beauty, Wildfire, Subconscious Prelude, Beehop, Gatsby the Great > Big Country > Gatsby the Great, Collective Pulse
Encore: Zazu’s Flight, I Need More Allowance