More Music, Less Musing
From the Chicago Tribune
More music, less musing would help Greg Dulli show
By Greg Kot
Tribune rock critic
Trailing cigarette smoke and stretching like a feline after a long nap, Greg Dulli did his best to play the insufferable cad Saturday at the Double Door.
He mused about women, who assume the roles of goddesses and punching bags, devils and angels, in his music — sometimes all within the same song. “I can’t wait till I find a good one,” he declared, “so I can stop making albums.”
Over 16 years with the Afghan Whigs and now the Twilight Singers, Dulli has paraded across his music with the swagger of an uptown pimp, only to wake up in the morning to survey the damage. His latest work, the Twilight Singers’ “Blackberry Belle,” distills that chilling worldview to its dark essence. It kicks off with a suicide note, “Martin Eden” (which Dulli dedicated Saturday to the late singer-songwriter Elliott Smith), and plunges into the night with a menacing offer: “Want to go for a ride?”
That became the theme of Dulli’s meandering two-hour set, an exercise in self-indulgence that taxed the patience and tolerance of even the singer’s most ardent fans. Dulli began the show more than two hours late, after the restless audience began to boo. Then he interrupted a perfectly fine concert for frequent monologues designed to prove just how big a jerk he can be.
It’s a shtick that has served the singer well for more than a decade, blurring the line between the entertainer onstage and the persona in the songs. Fascinating when it works, it fell flat Saturday because Dulli couldn’t tell the difference. “My mike, my stage,” he bellowed at one heckler. “I will talk all night if I want to.”
A shame, because the Twilight Singers are a fine band; if they’re not quite as explosive as the Whigs, they bring an expansiveness to Dulli’s narratives that dramatizes their smoldering lows, their harrowing peaks. His baritone voice veered between a sing-speak intimacy and a blue-eyed soul roar. Jon Skibic’s slide guitar purred, Scott Ford’s bass tiptoed along the spine of the songs, and Mathias Schneeberger’s keyboards rippled with melancholy whenever the guitars dropped into silence. “My soul is like a vacant lot,” Dulli wailed in “Decatur,” and he demanded to be taken at his word. Even his covers — the Zombies’ “Time of the Season,” Fleetwood Mac’s “Rhiannon,” the Beatles’ “All You Need is Love” — sounded of a piece, performed at the same slow-burn tempo, closing-time saloon ballads that shrouded Dulli’s world in regret.
As strong as the music was, there wasn’t enough of it. The singer has never tried to endear himself to his fans, and that’s part of his appeal, but on this night he crossed the line. It may have been Dulli’s stage, but he failed to recognize that arrogant, self-aggrandizing banter isn’t nearly as compelling as his songs.