Up on the Ladder…He Sings
21 Love Songs
By JAMES E LACZKOWSKI
Yeah, I wish I couldíve been there with The Afghan Whigs took the stage back in the 90s. While I was taking in grunge and Goth, a lot of lucky cats got to catch a band that has recently transformed into a whole new and exciting entity. Lead singer Greg Dulli is a deviously seductive performer who ferociously screams out all his transgressions and confronts his demons like no other contemporary songwriter today. Along with his new band, The Twilight Singers, they have conceived a monumental record, Blackberry Belle. Like 2000’s Twilight by the Twilight Singers, it is a unified partnership with a massive number of musicians fueled by the lead swagger of Dulli. Vocalist Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), drummer Stanton Moore (Galactic), multi-instrumentalist Petra Haden (That Dog, The Rentals), even Apollonia Kotero (star of Purple Rain) are among the many contributors credited on the record. The opening lyrics, ďBlack out the windows/itís party timeĒ set the tone better than most commencements.
But donít call it a comeback. Mr. Dulli has come full circle, managing to sound old-school and yet very new at the same time with his latest enterprise. Along with its predecessor, Blackberry Belle is a midnight-black record sketched in hope that implodes with crescendos that contain the same fierce adrenaline rush of the Whigs best work. Itís a continuation of the style and sound of the Whigs that best fit Dulliís persona. ďItís like changing dealers in Vegas. The Whigs had become “public property.” The (Twilight) Singers are here to reshuffle the deck,Ē says Dulli. The man has a live presence which comes across as testosterone turned up to eleven and yet still manages to embrace you like an old friend you havenít seen in years. Upon one of his more recent shows at the Double Door in Chicago, he was gloriously self-indulgent up there on stage, ranting and raving as the drinks kept coming. But there is a purity and honesty about him that either smacks you in the face or invites you up for a cocktail. There is no doubt a sinister quality to the milieu but itís not one that scares you away or plummets you into oblivion. Dulli himself seems to get in an alcohol-induced brawl with death, desire, and fear but always manages to come out the bruised and battered champion in the end. ďI wear all but tenderness on my sleeve. I keep the ace of tenderness taped under the table next to the shotgun, like Doc Holliday.Ē
Here is a man of true endurance, who refused to give in or give up even when The Afghan Whigs, departed ways in the late 90s. ďThe three of us lived in 3 different states and time zones. Two married men and an unapologetic gypsy bachelor. When we reconvened to play, it just wasn’t there anymore as a vessel. I walked away from music for a good long while and then the fire started burning again,Ē Dulli said. Now he has found that holy fire which was absent for a short while. He now approaches the stage confidently and approaches rock and roll instinctively without a modicum of pretense or drive-by glamour flashes. On stage, there is blood, sweat, and tears pouring out of every winding choral curvature. He stabs your ears with concentration and intensity, and you are left begging for more by the time the applause pierces the roof. His rage, sexuality, and passion are manifested at the velocity of speeding buckshots. When the speakers detonate and the all-encompassing cigarette smoke streams off into the air, you have no choice but to become drunk off the sound and his in-between song maxims.
Itís unfair to label the music of The Twilight Singers as merely dark and leave it at that. There is certainly a sense of release and optimism that very few contemporary artists emit from both their recordings and their live shows. Many have assumed that itís all about the gloom and doom as a result of either seeing a show or hearing a record. “Hear me now and don’t forget- Iím not the man my actions would suggest,” Dulli says. For many people, itís difficult to tackle a lot of feelings that many keep hidden and sometimes the actions of those who dare to confront these feelings are questionable to those on the outside looking in. But for a guy like Dulli, tackling sexuality and death with a no-holds-barred aggression is something that just has to happen. However, bringing this aggression to the surface is something he does with ambiguity. Itís clearly fueled by his passion for every genre from jazz, soul, to blues, sometimes within the same song. ďRock and roll is a lot like standup comedy, in that the more the speaker reveals, the more powerful the form becomes.Ē Dulli says.
You simply have to be in awe of Dulli with his gift for offbeat prose, his furious howl of a voice, and his refusal to hold back when so many others hide behind their shadow. Every record he makes continues to evoke emotion that very few musicians can achieve. When nearly every one of his songs seems to be a direct connection to the soul, there is no denying his impact or his significance in the world of rock and roll. His time has truly come. Greg Dulli may never become a household name or the lead story in Rolling Stone or Spin, but due in part to his dedicated fan base, he is more relevant and vital than half the artists that have recently graced magazine covers.