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Burning Down the House

Cincinnati ArtSpike Magazine
by Michael Kerns

Hurricane Dulli hit the Southgate House with gale-force winds estimated at approximately 900 miles an hour. There were damn few survivors.

Greg Dulli, fronting his newest musical onslaught, the five piece Twilight Singers, offered an inspired two and one-half hour set. The show included a musical tour of America, as well as two sets of encores. The second set of encores included some half dozen tunes played by a composite band featuring The Twilight Singers and former members from the Afghan Whigs.

Greg Dulli, frontman. All Photos: Arie Vandenberg

Playing to a packed house, Dulli took control from the start and never relinquished his grip on the heart of the crowd. Going into the show it was not clear whether the band could replicate the sound of The Twilight Singers on disk. Blackberry Belle, while reminiscent to the Afghan Whigs work, circa 1965, is, none the less, a far more artistic, polished and layered work featuring the efforts of countless sidemen from New Orleans and L.A. (Dulliís current home).

Any such concerns, however, were quickly allayed. Dulli’s band replicated the sound of their sophomore effort seemingly without effort. A strong rhythm section featuring the freakishly strong, straight-ahead drumming of Bobby McIntyre and the fine playing of bassist Scott Ford led the Twilight Singers. The duo played behind the sweet sounds of keyboardist Mathias Schneeberger and beneath the acid funk, soulful leads of guitarist Jon Skibic. Together, the Twilight Singers laid down a masterful and glorious sound. Dulli and company opened the set with high energy performance of “Esta Noche,” and never looked back. The musical storm grew throughout the night.

Certainly Dulli is not the type of guy who engenders neutral feelings. There were times on stage that Dulli came off as a perpetual 12-year old, tying a ton of bravado to equal amounts of arrogance and attitude. Halfway into the second song, “Teenage Wristband,” he introduced the first of many funk-filled acerbic leads from lead guitar player Jon Skibic by demanding of the crowd, “are you ready for this motherfuckers?”

Which is not to say that the night was not without its more cerebral moments.

In mid-set, Dulli took time to light his 4,000th cigarette of the evening; and behind soft bass and drum accompaniment, gave a touching soliloquy on the great American musical influences of his life, including John Coltrane, Marvin Gaye and others. He launched briefly into vocal riffs from “A Love Supreme,” and Gaye’s “Please Stay.”

Dulli also covered vast stretches of less classical musical territory, segueing from “Itís the Time of the Season” (complete with audience sing along exactly at midnight), to covering pieces of “Purple Rain,” as well as Kate Bush’s “Cloudbursting” before moving into quick renditions of “Rhiannon” and “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac (really).

Other highlights included a stirring rendition of “Black is the Color of my True Loveís Hair,” and an insanely flammable cover of “Layla” from Derrick and the Dominoes.

The second set of encores featured former Whig players joining Dulli on stage to perform “Uptown Again,” “Crazy,” and “66” from the 1965, and “Faded” from Black Love.

An eager crowd soaks in a set of encores.

Throughout the second set Dulli frequently, and literally, pulled former Whig players to center stage, clearly revealing in his old friends, telling John Curley at one point, “Stay here next to me.”

The Southgate show and new disc, taken together demonstrate that Dulli has traveled countless artistic miles since Whig efforts like “Gentlemen.” Where Dulli displayed a limited number of tricks on “Gentlemen,” primarily the art of screaming angry vocals over repetitive churning guitars. Blackberry Bell features fine writing (Dulli opens the disc with the captivating lines, “Black out the windows/It’s party time/You know how I love stormy weather/So let’s all play suicide,”) and a layered sound with incredibly clean production (the disc was mastered by local recording phenom Dave Davis).

Blackberry Belle also clearly demonstrates that Dulli has matured as a musician and vocalist. While his voice is still powerful, and at times as angry, as in the Whig days, it is also, by turns, on Blackberry Belle, introspective and confessional. The disc, at times, even manages to turn tender without being precious or maudlin, trading soulful and heart rendering piano introductions and some fine acoustic picking.

Dulliíís efforts and growth were plainly evident at the show. Love the man or hate him, the destruction was complete.

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