moe., Twiddle, and Soule Monde
Concert Reviews – Burlington,VT
By John Mikeska • Photos by Rick Levinson
The first show of the weekend Soule Monde got the party started with a bash. The latin rhythms and heavy clav-driven funk were nothing short of sensational. Russ Lawton & Ray Paczkowski grooved together as only old friends can do; all the while diving in-and-out of groove pockets with an understated confidence. These guys are masters of their craft and carry with them a diverse range of musical possibilities. Latin inspired melodies, courtesy of Ray’s surprisingly versatile rig, lay the foundation for Russ’ exceptional touch on the kit. The duo are able to produce an astounding array of sounds while exploring the depths of mutually inspired improvisation in a refreshingly energetic jazz-outfit.
Later in the evening, Twiddle took the waterfront stage and brought their music to life with patient, sparkling tones over the vast landscape. I was surprised to see just how many devoted Twiddle fans there were in attendance. Many of the passionate patrons commented on the importance of this show for not only the band but the growing fanbase as well. Arguably the hardest ticket in Twiddle history to date, this was a much anticipated homecoming show in the grandest setting. They played through an all-the-hits set that undoubtedly meant to capitalize on the newcomer fans in attendance. A notable “Gatsby The Great” featured an always-welcomed tease of Béla Fleck’s “Big Country”; a gorgeous melody that fits in perfectly with the song structure and catapults the jam to the precipice of major-key bliss.
Late-night Friday, moe.’s first show took flight at the legendary venue as they came out swingin’ with a 1-2-3 punch that included clearly defined offerings of Same Old Story, followed by an aptly titled Waiting For The Punchline, and then finished with a strong Okayalright. No strangers to the ballroom stage, moe. adapted to their surroundings by staying firmly aligned to the groove throughout improvisational segments.
A noteworthy collaboration came in the form of an energized back-and-forth guitar duel with Twiddle guitarist Mihali Savoulidis getting’ on it with moe.’s Al Schnier during “The Road”. To finish the set, the jam-veterans threw down a tender course of smoked “meat. > Billy Goat > head. > meat.” that closed out the night.
Moe.’s Saturday waterfront set was an all-out exclamation point on the weekend. These road-tested giants of jam took the stage during an astonishing “marmalade-skies” type sunset. The band aptly took notice and capably directed the music towards the ethereal as they navigated the serene waters of spacious improvisation. As these seasoned professionals sank their teeth into the set, the music developed and evolved to inspire levels of appreciation that are rare and precious in these parts.
Careening through rugged landscapes of red-blooded rock music, a life-changing “moe.-ment” occurred as I recognized the patience and dexterity with which they developed the climactic peaks and subsequently moved to the next musical idea after utterly laying waste to all the audience members’ cerebral cortex. I feel somewhat ashamed by the fact I hadn’t taken moe. more “seriously” beforehand, but comfort is found in the realization that much of their appeal arises from the accessibility of their music and sheer amount of fun contained within.
Deep, expansive grooves and tenacious xylophone offerings from the one they call “Jim” were truly astounding to behold. Juxtaposed against the thick rhythmic palate of percussion & bass, this melodious maniac manages to dazzle the senses with near “sensory-overload!” type experiences.
The waterfront show reached its climax during the 2nd set, with an expansive Tubing The River Styx > The Pit > Kyle’s Song. This 3-song gem featured seamless segues and frothy jams that fully displayed the musical prowess of this tried-and-true rock band.
For the late night party at Higher Ground, Twiddle played a noticeably amped up set. The band seemed more at ease during their indoor set and stretched out much more cohesively during their second show. Yet another testament to the design of the weekends events, the ability to catch the late-night shows at HG made for a jam-fest in two of the most well-suited venues imaginable.
With recent sets at Red Rocks and the momentum of a sold-out tour at their wake; Twiddle is poised to be the enigma that nearly resigned itself as a relic to a forgotten past. That is to say, what a jam-band could have been; before jambands were jambands. The first and foremost concept is that it’s a BAND. A band that writes songs, develops lyrics, incorporates life-experience and perhaps overarching themes into their collective ethos. Somewhere along the lines, what came to be known as “jambands” forgot the song and with it the soulful-inspiration that saturates the improvisation of a song-driven band like The Grateful Dead.
For many, Twiddle represents a return to innocence for bands that develop their music by improvising in a live setting, or so called, “jambands.” By creating an environment that facilitates an emotional transfer of unparalleled proportions, they’ve managed to re-create an experience that entices younger audiences AND offers compelling music for more weathered ears. This was of course, the original dream of the community surrounding the Grateful Dead, and much like the dream of America the reality bears little to no resemblance to what the creators had in mind, and would most likely be seen as more of a nightmare through the purity of their optimistic gaze.
It should come as little surprise that this jam-outfit hails from Vermont. There must be something in the greenery of those Green Mountains. Coming from someone who desperately needs to give up on the dream of making a living as a musician, I can attest to the feeling that comes from contemplating the luscious expanse of Vermont and to the ensuing realization that if this setting inspired the fantastical universe of Gamehendge (not to mention all the music leading up to, composed for, and written after its production) then there’s probably enough inspiration in them there hills to go around!
Or at least make it so you can no longer blame your songwriting issues on where you live..
The feeling that going to jamband shows is an educational experience built on the principle “knowledge speaks but wisdom listens” cannot be overstated and is essential to sustain the development of a given community. Theoretically, the band expresses wisdom obtained through life-experiences and the audience interprets this as an authentic and inspirational connection with redeeming value. Without this, the scene borders on the frivolous and risks becoming an all-inclusive cult that only appeals to those who are already members. We’ve seen it before, and we’ll see it again. It’s merely the effect of a systematic imbalance between the dream of the artist and the reality of the less-than-worthy consumer.
At that point, the inevitable demise of the community is ensured as the upcoming generation can make the accurate and understandable judgement that the scene has become hypocritical and consumed itself by the hubris of its own idealism. For better and for worse, and much like the coaches of sports teams who get WAY too much credit when their team wins and WAY too much credit when their team loses; bands often get branded as their patrons and held socially accountable to the actions of those who attend their shows.
An illuminating yet hysterical example exists in the idea of a fictional dinner party hosted by Phil Lesh and attended by a stereotypical, crispity crunchity gutterwook. We’re not talking about the common, everyday “wookie” here. Alternatively, Wookus Maximus is the epitome of someone who gives the scene a poor name. At this point, the differences between this intriguing specimen and the learned stylings of a classically trained musical giant and founding member of the Grateful Dead are difficult to describe without sounding like an advocate of eugenics.
On the whole, the golden-era of jambands is most assuredly over-and-done-with and in retrospect was really more like a “gilded-era” anyway. Any attempt to reconcile, justify, or explain away that fact is futile at best and ultimately a disservice to the happenings of contemporary artistry. In retrospect, the lineup of moe. and Twiddle was superbly designed on the part of the producers. What eventually became an indisputable triumph of jam was an event that offered as-much-as-you-could-possibly-handle and THEN some.
A trusted confidant and reliable source of industry related information remarked on the staying power of moe. during a recap of the weekends events. Aside from seriously scintillating rock music, moe. is able to navigate an immense landscape of musical possibilities with an artistic mastery that is unique to their outfit and utterly delightful to behold.
By staying focused on their unique craft while simultaneously paying homage and sanctifying the allegiance of their fans, they’ve carved out a niche that is entirely self-sufficient. That is to say, moe. doesn’t need you to like them. But should you so happen to have your first “moe.-ment” their brand of self-affirming authenticity lies ready in wait, as if to say;
“We’ve been here all along.. Where’ve YOU been”?
In the ideal jamband scenario, the setting and ambience have as much influence as any other factor [on the improv] and allow for the “anything can happen” feeling that comes from inspired improvisations. When the ongoing relationship between band/audience is combined with memories of past jams, you can concoct some seriously potent potentialities in your mind. This elemental connection is one I had yet to experience with moe. or Twiddle until this passed weekend.
With a picturesque waterfront setting and a room that needs no introduction (The Ballroom at Higher Ground), the opportunity to see these bands work the dynamic between a tight indoor venue and a spacious outdoor setting was a one-of-a-kind opportunity that served to reenergize an entire collective conscious. The opportunity to see the old & new came together less like a “changing of the guard” as you might think, and more as a refreshing invigoration that recharged the spirits and reminded us of the enduring nature of this devoted community.