Local IQ – The Twilight Singers
BY MICHAEL HENNINGSEN
If you’ve ever been in a relationship that disintegrates to the point at which there’s such a supreme lack of intimacy and disconnect that you find yourself wishing the other party would, at the very least, scream obscenities at you, burn your clothes or smash your “happy couple” pictures, then you’re on your way to understanding the well from which Greg Dulli has mined song material for the past two decades. Complacency and disregard seem to be Dulli’s arch enemies, love and purity his quest — both themes that have carried over from his days as founder and leader of indie icons Afghan Whigs to his current project, The Twilight Singers.
Forming Afghan Whigs in Cincinnati in the mid-80s, reportedly after meeting future guitarist Rick McCollum in a jail cell, Dulli and Co. landed a deal with Seattle’s Sub Pop Records following their debut album, Big Top Halloween on the Ultrasuede label, to release the raunchy pop album, Up In It at a time when then-label mates Nirvana and Soundgarden were about to unleash their kicking and screaming brands of grunge to a mostly unsuspecting public. The Whigs didn’t exactly fit that mold, which became apparent a year later with the release of Congregation Dulli’s first full-on foray into Motown as interpreted by a dark psyche whose musical self was steadily forming inside a mental cage chock full of demons.
The Whigs’ soulful exercises within a garage rock framework would eventually catapult them from cult status among an increasingly large army of rabid fans to borderline mainstream rock stardom (as close the mainstream, anyway, as an indie rock band can get. See Screaming Trees) by the time Gentlemen dropped on the public courtesy of Elektra Records. Gentlemen stands as a rock masterpiece steeped in the Stax catalog and hemorrhaging Dulli’s heart-shattering desperation and anguish — a record that also proved to be the beginning of the end of Afghan Whigs.
Several albums were to follow, 1996’s Black Love, 1998’s 1965 and a limited edition sampler the same year, titled Historectomy, but none of the subsequent recordings managed to capture the intensity and brutal honesty of Gentlemen.
Fast forward to 2000. Twilight: As Performed by The Twilight Singers (Columbia) appears to modest critical acclaim and Afghan Whigs fans breathe a collective sigh of relief that Greg Dulli’s back in the game. It took three years for the first fully fleshed Twilight Singers record to drop, Blackberry Belle, several tours, some reported drug-induced soul searching and another three years for Dulli to regain his fully upright songwriter stance. Powder Burns, released earlier this year, is, as many critics have stated, the closest Dulli has come to the near-perfection he achieved with Afghan Whigs. And, even more recently, The Twilight Singers added a new twist.
You won’t find a lyricist and singer that matches Dulli’s incendiary power and urgency, except, perhaps, for Mark Lanegan, the former Screaming Trees vocalist and author of a handful of exceedingly brilliant solo outings who joined Dulli as co-vocalist in The Twilight Singers a scant few months ago. The partnership, solidified during a two-night stand in Tel-Aviv, has proved to be the most powerful the rock world has witnessed since Lanegan took the stage for a time with Queens of the Stone Age and Mike Watt joined J. Mascis and the Fog. Saying any band or particular show is a “must-see” carries with it a certain amount of hyperbolic risk, and I admit to having overused it in the past. But in this instance, not seeing the show could have adverse effects on the rest of your life.