Photo: Jay Blakesberg

Twiddle Trips the Light Fantastic at the Fillmore

Vermont jamrockers Twiddle roll into rock's most hallowed hall and throw down an electrifying show that conjures the Fillmore's glory days.

There are any number of milestone shows in a rising band’s career where special moments are reached and dreams come true. Vermont-based jamrock quartet Twiddle has been racking up such milestone moments over the past few years. The band has headlined Red Rocks in Colorado, jammed with Phish’s Page McConnell and the Grateful Dead’s Phil Lesh, and even been introduced by popular U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders at their own Tumble Down Festival.

But on this Thursday evening in early March, Twiddle hits another milestone with their debut headlining performance at the fabled Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco. This show probably would have come sooner if not for the past decade’s insane real estate inflation in the Bay Area, causing an existential cultural crisis where most of the younger music fans who used to flock to San Francisco now seek more economical living in cities like Denver, Austin, Portland, and San Diego. Hence Twiddle debuted at the Fillmore two years ago as the opening act for their friends in Animal Liberation Orchestra (ALO).

Twiddle won over a number of fans that weekend, including an impromptu headlining show at Terrapin Crossroads (TxR) across the Golden Gate Bridge the next night. This was followed by a three-night “Unbroken Train” run back at TxR last summer, where Twiddle continued to win hearts and minds as band members collaborated with Phil and Grahame Lesh in multiple formats including a mesmerizing duo performance of “All Along the Watchtower” between virtuoso guitarist Mihali Savoulidis and Phil Lesh. Now in 2019, Twiddle is ready to headline the Fillmore and no special guests are needed to boost ticket sales.

Twiddle / Photo by Jay Blakesberg

The band is ready to rock right out of the gate, opening with a big jam on “River Drift” that moves right into a multi-dimensional jam space as keyboardist Ryan Dempsey lays down some trippy synths while Mihali rocks some staccato riffage to conjure a tight groove for an extended workout. “White Light” pumps up the good vibes, an essential Twiddle tune where Mihali sings of how “So many people need a lift” and then offers a remedy with “Allow yourself to breathe, kick back relax and dream, so many good things come to those who love relentlessly…” The theme of love conquering all was a vital element of the counterculture movement that put the San Francisco music scene on the map in the 1960s, and Twiddle have been staking a claim as one of the modern bands carrying a bright torch for the peace and love movement.

Twiddle’s Mihali Savoulidis & Ryan Dempsey / Photo by Jay Blakesberg

A groovy melodic jam segues into a timely cover of ALO’s “Barbecue”, a nod perhaps to when Twiddle jammed on the song with ALO here in 2017 and which has been in the Twiddle repertoire for years. A first time bustout of the instrumental “Dinner Fork” — a song from Twiddle’s 2017 album Plump (Chapter 2) that had never been played live — seems to mark this night as a special occasion indeed. A hot jam on “Frankenfoote” then closes the first set before the band takes a short break. It’s been a well-played fun set, but it feels like the band is still setting the stage for bigger things to come.

Twiddle’s Mihali Savoulidis / Photo by Jay Blakesberg

Twiddle launches the second set in energetic style with “Lost in the Cold”, another spiritually-oriented fan favorite where Mihali ponders on how “It’s hard to see the future when the present doesn’t suit ya…” The band brings out singer Nathan Feinstein from opening act Iya Terra to help pump up the song’s reggae-tinged vibe, with Feinstein leading some call and response action from the hyped up audience that makes it momentarily feel like a bit like a Spearhead show (another longtime local favorite.)

Twiddle with Iya Terra’s Nathan Feinstein / Photo by Jay Blakesberg

“Polluted Beauty” makes a great follow-up as Mihali sings out some deep thoughts on the contradictions of the modern world such as “We’re the lazy generation, our questions answered with a click, to seek out knowledge when it’s all at your fingertips, If we just got back to basics put one seed into the earth, We could heal this epidemic, save the world before it’s cursed…” The quartet displays their diverse talent as they slowly crank the song’s sonic gear shift toward warp drive, transmogrifying the basic groove into a surging sequence with bassist Zdenek Gubb and drummer Brook Jordan building up the groove in dynamic fashion while Mihali rips hot riffs to elevate the song to a higher dimension.

Twiddle’s Zdenek Gubb / Photo by Jay Blakesberg

Dempsey is the band’s secret weapon — one moment he’s laying down melodic piano lines, then he’s triggering psychedelic synths to open up a cosmic wormhole that finds the band warping into another realm altogether. The ecstatic sonic journey lands on an infectiously funky groove that soon finds the audience getting down on the good foot as the band’s psychedelic light show swirls and the Fillmore’s timeless 4th-dimensional circuit of using music, light and color to conjure higher consciousness is activated once more.

Twiddle’s Ryan Dempsey / Photo by Jay Blakesberg

“Tom’s Song” brings thing back down a notch until it starts to build up at the end, as the band swings into the syncopated groove of “Indigo Trigger”. It’s one of Twiddle’s more intriguing songs thematically, with Mihali singing “On the side of the road flew two metal birds, Three lights spinning bright, Hopping stars out of the shadow land, Yeah you know they’re waiting and listening, To what you’re thinking…” The lyrics suggest a close encounter with some of Earth’s hipper ET visitors, an interest further suggested in tonight’s limited edition show print.

LE Print – Twiddle @ The Fillmore – 03/07/09

The song moves into an ultra-funky jam, with Dempsey dialing up an otherworldly sonic landscape while Gubb and Jordan lay down a fat groove that makes makes booties move. The funk zone eventually drops into a bluesier rock space as Dempsey moves back to piano and locks in with Mihali’s hot guitar licks as the band returns to the song’s original groove and rides it to a fiery crowd-pleasing peak.

Twiddle’s Brook Jordan / Photo by Jay Blakesberg

Twiddle pulls another card out of their sonic bag of tricks with “Wasabi Eruption”, a melodic gem that seems to have a bit of a Charlie Brown and Peanuts feel, if Brown had say moved out to San Francisco and fallen in with the Haight-Ashbury music scene. Dempsey stars again here with beautiful piano lines, while Mihali spins melodious licks and Gubb weaves lead bass lines to generate a mesmerizing sound. The quartet then elevates to a higher dimension yet again as Dempsey opens another cosmic portal and the whole band jumps through together, with all four members seeming to take the lead at the same time yet collectively as one sonic force for intergalactic peace and harmony. The band soon finds this dynamic jam space again on “The Box”, with tight melodies and hot grooves swirling around each other in smoking fashion to close out the sensational set with a flourish.

Twiddle / Photo by Jay Blakesberg

It’s been a spectacular night at the Fillmore, with Twiddle conjuring a relatively rare vibe these days where some of the veteran rockers in the audience can almost feel as if they’re partying like it’s 1999 (can it be mere coincidence that Twiddle jammed on Prince’s “1999” with ALO here in 2017?) The last year of the 20th century was a time when the Fillmore music scene was experience a resurgence of sorts, after re-opening in 1994. Rising jambands seemed to roll through on a regular basis, often selling out the venue and playing two or three show runs since there were still so many younger music fans living in the Bay Area at a time when one-bedroom apartments could be had for $1,000 per month.

Such heady times often feel like a distant dream now, with San Francisco’s median rent price for a one-bedroom apartment skyrocketing to nearly $3,700 in 2018. But when a band like Twiddle comes in to throw down an ecstatic dance party like this, the good times roll again and the dream that was dreamed one afternoon long ago by a local band in the Haight-Ashbury lives on…