Twilight Singers HOB Hollywood Review

Junkmedia: World of Sound

Twilight Singers at the House of Blues, West Hollywood, CA

There’s no better front-man in rock-and-roll today than Greg Dulli. None. A few pounds heavier than you might remember, his voice a bit more gravelly from the Camels he smokes non-stop on stage, he still carries with him the cocksure swagger that defined him as the leader of Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs through the ‘90’s. “I know you’re feelin’ me now,” he tells an appreciative crowd at LA’s House of Blues. “I’m feelin’ you back.”

As the frontman of the Twilight Singers, a collective that adds and drops band members each touring cycle — drummer Bobby MacIntyre and bassist Scott Ford are the mainstays — Dulli belts out dark, soul-tinged numbers that are, at times, kissin’ cousins in tone and texture to what he performed with the Whigs. But there’s a depth to the material that translates well on-stage and a rawness that strips away some of the studio polish of the first two Twilight Singers records, 2000’s trip-hoppy Twilight As Performed By The Twilight Singers and 2003’s Blackberry Belle. It’s telling that not a single Whigs song made the two-hour-plus set-list— while it’s a bit of a drag not to hear “Fountain And Fairfax” played a stone’s throw away from the actual intersection, the intensity of the newer material more than compensates.

Newly sober after nearly twenty years of hard living — the recent Powder Burns record deals explicitly with some of the demons he’s had to fight — Dulli drank only water on stage, cracking that he was Dean Martin to Ford’s Frank Sinatra. But the material still carries with it a powerful narcotic punch; when, over the simple, minor key piano riff that opens “Martin Eden,” Dulli sings “Black out the windows/It’s party time,” you know it’s gonna be a long, intense evening.

The high energy of “Teenage Wristband” and Powder Burns standouts “I’m Ready” and “Bonnie Brae” (put to good use in a recent episode of “Rescue Me,” written and starring longtime Dulli pal Denis Leary) gives way to the smoky barroom funk of Martina Topley-Bird’s “Too Tough To Die.” “I need it,” Dulli smirks, referring to a “fresh wave of adulation” he desires. “I’m so fragile.”

Recently deputized Twilight Singer Mark Lanegan makes an appearance covering Massive Attack’s “Live With Me” off the new, as-yet-iTunes-only A Stitch In Time EP, his leathery voice turning the original’s yearning into something darker and more menacing. Lanegan sticks around for a cover of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “I’ll Take Care Of You” (from his 1999 covers album of the same name) and “Sideways In Reverse” from 2004’s Bubblegum. Dulli and Lanegan, friends dating back to Lanegan’s time fronting the Screaming Trees, are reportedly finishing up work on a long-in-development project as the Gutter Twins.

The band is snare-tight, with guitarist Dave Rosser wailing through high-tempo rockers like “Esta Noche.” Furious Bobby “Mac” resembles none other than The Muppets’ “Animal” on drums, while ex-Camp Freddy bassist Ford proves to be the Twilight Singers’ secret weapon this time out, locking A Stitch In Time’s “Sublime” into a sexy Marvin Gaye groove and rooting the encore cover of Fat Freddy’s Drop’s “Flashback” around an slippery funk riff that gets even the stiffest audience members moving.

But it’s still Greg Dulli’s show. He transforms Powder Burns’ melancholy “Candy Cane Crawl” into a rousing, shiver-inducing spiritual and, during “The Killer,” grabs two of the least likely songs you’d expect to hear together — Justin Timberlake’s “Lovestoned” and TV On The Radio’s “Wolf Like Me” — and blends them together into something utterly new and spellbinding. From the days that he’d sift Pavement, Prince, PJ Harvey and Pink Floyd through Whigs tracks like “Turn On The Water” to cover projects like 2004’s She Loves You, Dulli transforms other people’s songs into his own onstage. “Shine on Your Crazy Diamond” gives way to “Candy Cane Crawl;” the “hootenanny” Dulli promises and delivers with “Papillon” finishes with a touching, downtempo piano-led take on Echo & the Bunnymen’s “The Killing Moon.”

A Twilight Singers concert is one of the few safe bets in rock— two hours, over twenty songs, and the promise of more to come. “It’s always a pleasure to rock for ya,” Dulli tells the crowd at the end of the first set. The enthusiastic response is a clear sign that the feeling is more than mutual and Dulli, showman to the end, basks in it all before launching into the encore.

Jeff Klein — Dulli protégé and now full-time keyboard player and rhythm guitarist with the Twilight Singers — opened the show with a strong-if-earnest acoustic set played live with a series of Beck-like tape loops and prerecorded backing tracks. It’s significantly more polished than Klein’s scruffy appearance and barber-college haircut might lead you to believe. In comparison, Portland’s Stars of Track and Field felt like the odd man out, their stiff alt-pop akin to something you’d hear on “The O.C.” The Nada Surf-esque choruses on songs like “Real Time” work well, but the rest of their set was drab and generic. It doesn’t help that the band’s foppish appearance — singers Kevin Cabala and Jason Bell wore variants on Jerry Seinfeld’s dreaded “Puffy Shirt” — set them at odds against the rest of the evening’s whiskey haze.

–Mark Cappelletty

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