Echoes of Afghan Whigs
Dulli tours Twilight Singers with echoes of Afghan Whigs
By G. Brown, Rock Talk
Of the early ’90s bunch of alternative-rock godfathers, Cincinnati’s Afghan Whigs were perhaps the most overlooked. The band attempted to create a fusion of passionate post-punk and the amorous sounds of soul.
As frontman, Greg Dulli developed a tortured persona: the demented storyteller with an undercurrent of dark humor, documenting the emotional and physical cruelties of broken relationships and self-loathing.
After devoting 13 chaotic years to the Afghan Whigs – playing 1,500 shows, living in 10 different cities, getting knocked into a coma following a post-concert assault in late ’98, kicking a crushing heroin habit – Dulli appeared to have finally found some stability. The Twilight Singers were created following the Whigs amicable breakup, with Dulli regrouping and collaborating with various musicians. Their first record, 2000’s “Twilight,” fell somewhere between trip-hop and alternative rock.
But “Blackberry Belle,” the new Twilight Singers album, tailed Dulli through some personal and stylistic changes. He and the band are undertaking his first U.S. tour since the dissolution of the Afghan Whigs, starting at the Bluebird Theater on Tuesday night.
The Twilight Singers began as a collective Dulli modeled after Anton Fier’s Golden Palominos.
“But two minutes in the studio let me know it was a horrible idea,” Dulli said with a laugh recently. “Not because those guys weren’t immensely talented, but putting three lead singers in the same room becomes like an alpha capture-the-flag battle.”
Then Dulli found himself residing in Los Angeles for the fourth time in his life. He didn’t pick up a guitar or play the piano for nearly two years.
“I was sad that I’d broken the Whigs up,” he said. “But I had to, and everyone agreed. I had been in that band since I was 20 years old, and we’d been running around the world. It was like a death.
“I didn’t consciously walk away from music, but I unconsciously did,” he said. “I bought and ran a bar, bartending five nights a week. I was Joe Lunchbox
“It kept me around people. I tend to be agoraphobic at times, so it was slightly imperative to getting me back on the rock ‘n’ roll trip.”
Then a small earthquake hit Southern California, prompting a jolt of creativity that Dulli had never experienced before. And the sudden death of a friend, filmmaker Ted Demme, affected the darker tone of “Blackberry Belle.”
“That is when I started to work in earnest on the record,” Dulli said. “I wrote about 50 songs – almost matching my entire output in the Whigs history.”
Working under the moniker of the Twilight Singers, Dulli split time between L.A. and New Orleans’ French Quarter, picking up a rotating cast of musicians along the way, from Alvin Youngblood Hart to former Prince protege Apollonia.
“There’s 25 people on the record,” he said. “Every single one of them is my friend. I knew that before I started, and I knew what they could do.”
“Blackberry Belle” is an elegant, ambient extension of the Whigs’ end direction, incorporating the tortured, angst-ridden lyricism that fans have come to expect from Dulli. “Martin Eden,” a nod to Jack London’s semi-autobiographical novel, opens the album with a sinister declaration to “Black out the windows/It’s party time.”
Dulli’s search for his happy ending has continued with the Twilight Singers, but he senses that a legacy is still being built for the Afghan Whigs, although the band never broke into the mainstream.
“I’ll drop a couple of Whigs numbers in concert,” he said. “I was ambivalent about that angle, but I’ve been pummeled by the guys in my band, their encouragement. ‘C’mon, don’t be a (bleep) – who do you think you are, John Fogerty?’ I have to keep in mind that everybody knows me from that band, so the Twilight Singers are getting a leg up because of the Afghan Whigs. And I wrote and sang all those songs, so it should be pretty easy.
“You always want what you can’t have, and I did,” he admitted. “Now I get 19-year-old people coming up to me – ‘My sister turned me on to you.’ It’s strange. I didn’t play for a couple of years, then played L.A and it sold out in a couple of days. I didn’t know what to think, except that maybe people missed me a little bit.”
The Twilight Singers: 9 p.m. Tuesday, Bluebird Theater, $13, TicketWeb.