The Twilight Singers Prince of Wales Review
After what seemed like an eternity in waiting, Greg Dulli finally performed his first show in Australia this evening. With what has become the closest the band had to a permanent roster since Dulli first started the project, The Twilight Singers played a close to two hour set that featured a good mix of songs from their four studio albums as well as recent EP, A Stich in Time.
It was a set I wasn’t so sure I was going to get a chance to see at 7am this morning, when I was told my flight from Perth to Melbourne had been cancelled. A later flight and mad dash to St. Kilda meant I arrived at the Prince of Wales – suitcase still in hand – just as The Twilight Singers took the stage, meaning I had missed the chance to catch any of the opening act. My apologies to Gersey.
It also meant I had missed the opportunity to get a general make-up of the crowd. Dulli has what most regard as a ‘cult following’ – which is really just a polite way of saying he doesn’t sell many records. Neither Dulli’s previous band The Afghan Whigs, nor The Twilight Singers have ever made much of an impact on the public conscience, their names registering blank looks on the faces of most. So with what looked like a packed room, I was curious to know what people were expecting from the show.
Kicking off with I’m Ready – the opening track from Powder Burns – and Teenage Wristband from 2000’s Blackberry Belle suggested the show tonight would be a high energy one. Unfortunately the crowd seemed either unwilling to submit or unsure of how to react, as their reception early in the set was somewhat cold, despite Dulli’s best efforts to get a response.
After Bonnie Brae and Too Tough To Die – from the covers album She Loves You – Dulli introduced Mark Lanegan to the stage, and from the cheer that went up it became pretty clear that he had been the drawcard for many tonight. Whereas Dulli’s previous attempts to get the crowd going were met with indifference, as soon as Lanegan came out it was as if the gig had started proper.
Anyone who’s seen Mark Lanegan perform with Queens of the Stone Age would be familiar with the procedure. Around a third of the way through the set, Lanegan saunters out onto stage, proceeds to give the low end on the PA a real workout for three to four songs, and then strolls off, with the band continuing to play as though he’d never been there. Well as it happens, Twilight Singers shows are much the same, and perhaps a crowd who were more familiar with the material may have known to expect this. After performing a mini-set of covers including Massive Attack’s Live With Me, the classic Where Did You
Sleep Last Night?, and Sideways in Reverse from Lanegan’s own album Bubblegum, the reaction from some when he left the stage suggested perhaps they felt a little misled by the inclusion of his name as an almost double bill.
At this stage a lesser frontman may have given up and rushed to get the crowd pleaser back on stage but, not willing to give up, Dulli continued to give it his all and proceeded to gradually win the crowd back.
Greg Dulli has said in the past that, for all intents and purposes, he is The Twilight Singers. While that may be true on record, when it comes to the live incarnation of the ‘Singers, the band cannot be just disregarded as backing musicians. Drummer Bobby Macintyre, bassist Scott Ford and Guitarist Dave Rosser bring not only their distinct sound, but also a sense of personality to the band. Singer-songwriter Jeff Klein chips in by providing backing keyboards when Dulli isn’t and guitar when he is.
Together the five men transformed tracks from the first Twilight Singers album, from striped back trip-hop inspired tunes to into rawkus, raw, rock and roll songs. Firstly with the beatsy Love and Annie-Mae, sounding like the polar opposites to their recorded counterparts, then with set highlight Candy Cane Crawl, which managed to make the album version sound positively tepid. Dulli looking frighteningly like the late John Belushi, sans black glasses and hat, as the song reached its climax. Papillon followed, with hints of Steve Miller Band’s The Joker, and the only Afghan Whigs reference for the night – the verse from the opening track of Gentlemen, If I Were Going.
By the time the band reached the set closer Underneath the Waves, it was clear they’d won the crowd over. A recent incident on the Singers’ US tour reminded fans that an encore is a privilege to be earned, not just that bit in the show where the band take a break before they come out and play some more. Tonight, the crowd were treated with The Killer, which morphed into a lounge version of TV On the Radio’s Wolf Like Me. Lanegan then rejoined the band, finishing off with Flashback and Black is the Colour of My True Love’s hair.
A quick scan of the crowd once the lights came up showed mixed reactions. While some were won over with Dulli’s showmanship, and his ability to make the songs of others sound like his own, others were still convinced Lanegan appearance – albeit brief – was the true highlight of the show. Either way you look at it, though, there seemed to be something to satisfy almost everyone.