Boston 06 Review

Rock and role The Phoenix

Greg Dulli may wear his tender heart on his suave, stylish sleeve, but it’s just bait — a lure for unwitting romantics who enjoy having their hearts broken. At least, that’s the role he played for more than a decade fronting Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs, a ’90s Sub Pop band who took their grunge with less metal and more classic R&B groove and dark atmospherics than your typical Seattle-ite. Indeed, the Twilight Singers, the band that brought Dulli to the Paradise a week ago Tuesday, started out as just a way for him to indulge his inner soulman on the side. But with the collapse of the Whigs, the Singers have become a Dulli solo project with a rotating cast of musicians that includes Ani DiFranco and ex-Whigs bassist John Curley on the latest Twilight Singers CD, Powder Burns (One Little Indian). The disc brings Dulli full circle, back to playing the cad closing in for the kill in a hard-edged rock setting, with slide guitars and the occasional funky grooves mixed in among late-night laments and dark portraits of broken souls caught up in various dysfunctional relationships. It’s where the Whigs left off with 1998’s 1965 (Elektra), right down to its setting — New Orleans. Only this time it was post-Katrina, and Dulli had to bring in outside generators to power the studio equipment.

For the tour, Dulli brought along a full band that included his old pal Mark Lanegan, the former Screaming Trees frontman who guested on last year’s She Loves You, an all-covers Twilight Singers disc, as well as Austin-based singer/songwriter/keyboardist Jeff Klein, whose 2005 The Hustler was produced by Dulli. But when the Twilight Singers are in the house, it’s the Greg Dulli show. He did cede the microphone to Lanegan, who appeared like some ghostly apparition mid set to deliver a couple of his own dark, boozy tales as well as an ambitiously reimagined cover of Massive Attack’s “Live with Me.” And Lanegan was back for the encore with his own Sabbathy “Boogie Boogie.”

Yet as cool as it was to hear two of the most compelling male voices from the ’90s underground on stage together, the high points belonged to Dulli, a guy who’s never met a spotlight he didn’t like, a guy who motioned to his roadie for a cigarette every couple of songs, a guy who unabashedly invited the crowd to join in on a real “West Virginia hootenanny” by clapping along to the opening bars of “Papillon,” another tune in which he picks at the scabs of a relationship in ruins, before improvising a few lines from Steve Miller (“I’m a joker/I’m a smoker/I’m a midnight toker”) and Echo and the Bunnymen (“Under blue moon I saw you . . . ”). Yes, it was the killing time. Dulli was only too happy to offer himself up as a sacrificial lamb on the altar of rock and roll. It would be ridiculous if he weren’t so good at it. But it’s a role he was born to play.

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