The Gutter Twins darken the TLA tonight
By Michael Christopher, Times Music Columnist
The teaming of Greg Dulli and Mark Lanegan is a music lover’s dream: Two alternative rock icons, both with a twisted and dark psyche, getting together to see what trouble they can get into.
Initially, it was to dabble in each other’s projects — a guest spot here, a backing vocal there. But earlier this year, the two banded together for a full length under the oh-so-appropriate moniker The Gutter Twins.
The result, “Saturnalia,” is a bleak and twisted affair that makes some of the work by Edgar Allan Poe seem like cheery, sunny day material. Barreling through songs of tortured love, impending doom and fire and brimstone swirl within the dark brood of Lanegan’s growl and Dulli’s painful pleas for salvation from certain damnation.
Well received by critics and fans of the singer’s respective outfits, Dulli, for one, is not surprised at the praise the album garnered out of the gate.
“I think that’s why we signed with Sub Pop,” he told Rock Music Menu. “Because they are a machine, and I knew that they would attack with tenacity.”
Sub Pop, of course, is the Seattle-based record label often credited with launching the grunge-era of the early ’90s, showcasing the likes of Nirvana and Soundgarden. It was also the first home to Dulli’s Afghan Whigs and Lanegan’s Screaming Trees.
“I think it’s very poetic,” Dulli said of returning to the Sub Pop fold. “They were the first people to believe in me, and the fact that they believe in me 20 years later? It’s a beautiful feeling.”
Linking up with a fellow singer who also approaches matters of the heart with suspicion if not outright distrust seemed only natural to Dulli, who also helms the Twilight Singers, a soulful outlet that features a revolving door of collaborators.
“He’s like one of my best friends that I’ve ever had, and he’s got one of the greatest voices that I’ve ever heard.” Dulli said. “I’ve loved that guy’s voice since I was, you know, 19 years old. It’s a thrill every night. We’ve done over 150 gigs together and it never gets old, I’m never not psyched to look over and see him standing there.”
The stoic and cool Lanegan has shared the spotlight with Dulli often in recent years, mainly to do a handful of songs on the road with The Twilight Singers before slipping away almost unnoticed until it was time to return for more. This time around, both pull their own weight for the entire show.
“We have designed the set so that no one leaves the stage —- ever,” Dulli said. “When he came out with the Twilights, I just wanted him around, and he was keen for a road trip, and it was understood whose show it was.”
“This thing here is a straight up and down 50/50 composition, and honestly, I think it’s easier on us both vocally. I would’ve lost my voice by now and I have not, so it’s nice.”
Tonight at the TLA, the duo will welcome Philadelphia into the shadows for the first time, after skipping the city on the first leg of the tour in the spring and then canceling a portion of summer dates due to scheduling conflicts.
“It was not purposeful,” said Dulli of the slight. “The night we would have played Philadelphia was the night we played The David Letterman Show, and that was the casualty. Believe me, Philadelphia and Detroit, of all the towns, they’re my two favorite towns we didn’t play that round.”
In addition to “Saturnalia,” the band is promoting an EP that came out in September called “Adorata,” which consists mainly of covers.
From the recent Jose Gonzalez single “Down the Line” to an excellent take on “Deep Hit of Morning Sun” by Primal Scream, it’s no surprise to anyone familiar with Dulli that he absolutely nails other artists’ songs, sometimes better than the original.
Last year, he flew under the radar with a cover of the Lieber and Stoller classic “Trouble,” made famous by Elvis Presley, which appeared in the Hilary Swank film “P.S. I Love You.”
“Richard LaGravenese, who is the director, is a friend of mine, and I sang an Elvis song at a party, at a piano one night, and he was at that party,” Dulli said. “I’m guessing that he noticed my Elvis skills that evening and came back at me for that one, and filled my pockets with money.”
But even as an elder statesman of such an influential era in music, Dulli still has sharp teeth that will be bared, at least into a sneer, when proper respect to his legacy isn’t shown.
Parker Gispert, singer of the rocking Athens trio The Whigs, responded to a question posed by Harp magazine earlier this year about his act’s name in relation to The Afghan Whigs.
“With all due respect, I don’t feel like it’s naming the band ‘The Stones,’” he said.
“I think that’s funny, and it must suck to be on the defensive is all I can say,” Dulli responded. “I’ll tell you what man, maybe my next band will be called The Stones.
“You know what? Albatross around your neck Whigs – have fun with that.”
The Gutter Twins tour wraps Sunday in Boston, but Dulli is already onto something else; last week he put out his first proper solo record, a live gig taken from a show one year ago in Seattle where he was joined on-stage by friends like Shawn Smith and Petra Hayden.
Right now Dulli is getting excited about some new music in the initial stages. But whether it will turn into another Twilight Singers album or something completely different hasn’t been figured out just yet.
“I’m always thinking about stuff,” he said. “I have begun to lay down riffs for something, I don’t know what it is yet, but I have some riffs that I really like. I don’t know what it will be, but they’re good.”
“It’ll be good for my new band The Stones.”