Singers Let Loose

Monday, November 17, 2003; Page C09
Washington Post

— Mike Little

The Afghan Whigs never quite fit into the early ’90s Sub Pop explosion. For one thing, frontman Greg Dulli was too flashy for flannel, too kitschy for angst; if Kurt Cobain was the Vincent van Gogh of grunge, Dulli was its Dean Martin. Who else among his celebrity-shy contemporaries could say they’d been body-checked by Tony Curtis during a tequila-fueled Easter egg hunt hosted by the late Dodi Fayed? Certainly not Eddie Vedder. When the Afghan Whigs disbanded, Dulli retreated to the bar he owns in Los Angeles. But Dulli was born for the stage, and he finally resurrected the Twilight Singers, which he first formed as a funk- and soul-inflected side project in the late 1990s.

The Twilight Singers recently released their sophomore full-length, “Blackberry Belle,” and Friday at the Black Cat they treated the crowd to a freewheeling set that combined loose-as-a-goose covers (or fragments thereof) of songs by Marvin Gaye, Fleetwood Mac, Kate Bush, John Coltrane and Tom Jones with plenty of sharp-edged originals, including a mordant “Martin Eden” that Dulli dedicated to Elliott Smith. “Papillon” and “Esta Noche” featured marvelously crunchy guitar by Jon Skibic; the let’s-stay-up-all-night anthem “Teenage Wristband” cleverly toyed with Pete Townshend’s synthesizer intro to “Teenage Wasteland.”

If the show had a downside, it stemmed from Dulli’s tendency toward extended monologues. He is clearly a man in love with the sound of his own voice. But he didn’t mind handing lead vocals over to the crowd, at one point telling it, “I’ll put you up against those Dashboard Confessional punks any day.”

Really — who needs emo when you have Tom Jones?

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