A lone man wrapped in a hippie-like shawl hawked Grateful Dead buttons and other jam-band paraphernalia on North Pearl Street outside the Twiddle show on Saturday night, but the weather was far too cold for fans streaming into the Palace Theatre to linger for long.
The temperature outside was in the frigid single digits for the first of two New Year’s Eve-weekend shows by the burgeoning jam band Twiddle, but inside the nearly full yet not sold-out theater, the climate was warmer and the atmosphere festive.
Despite the appearance of Grateful Dead touchstones in the venue — fans in coats emblazoned with the skull and lightning bolt “Steal your Face” Dead logo, for instance — the Castleton quartet Twiddle has more in common with their fellow Vermonters Phish, who led the second wave of progressive rock bands known for faithful followers, musical improvisation and sprawling instrumental jams.
“Take a deep breath, go on a trip with me,” sang Twiddle frontman and guitarist Mihali Savoulidis — sporting long black hair and beard, along with black jeans and a white hat — on the opening number “Every Soul,” a platitude-filled song about living your best life that appears on the band’s recent release, the double album “PLUMP (Chapters 1 & 2).”
An array of glow-in-the-dark balloons were batted about the theater by fans as the song slipped from its wistful verse-chorus mode into an extended psychedelic-tinged jam punctuated by flashing strobe lights. Dancing fans swarmed the aisles (but were told by ushers to go back to their assigned seats).
The song that followed seamlessly was a cover of “Best Feeling” by fellow jam band The String Cheese Incident and Keller Williams, which started out twangy, devolved into funkified reggae and then built to a cacophony. The song showcased the finger-slapping bass of Zdenek Gubb, who looked the part of a Vermont ski bum in stripped knit winter cap and oversized camo pants.
For a form of music marked by on-the-fly improvisation, it was all a bit predictable: Twiddle would briefly start a song with a lyrical component and melody, but use it primarily as a launching point for a much longer jam that played dramatic, frantic moments of increasing intensity off moments of sustained release.
The highlight of the show, which had two hour-or-so-long sets bookmarked by a half-hour intermission, may have been “Jamflowman,” a crowd favorite with a catchy hook that snaked from Primus-like funk-prog to lilting reggae as a red-lit haze enveloped the stage.
Savoulidis channeled Jerry Garcia with his guitar tone on the lyrically bizarre “DoinkinBonk!!!,” while a toy Yoda “Star Wars” statue guarded the stage holding a light saber. And keyboardist Ryan Dempsey stood atop his organ rig during the free-fall jam “Tiberius,” which had parallels to Phish in the fantasy-inspired absurdity of its lyrics about a plot to kill the king and queen of a foreign land.
Opener The Marcus King Band from Greenville, South Carolina, was more southern rock and funk-blues than jam oriented, although the six-piece group (including trumpet and saxophone) did stretch out into instrumental jams on songs from an upcoming album, including the tune “So Cool.”