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Live in New York |

Cole Waterman,

Greg Dulli might be older, but that doesn’t mean he’s getting soft; he’s harder than ever. (C’mon, like a Dulli review can open with anything but a double entendre.) And finally fans of his Twilight Singers have a document of the collective’s frenetic live shows to convert those criminally uninformed of their greatness.

Live in New York was shot on location at Webster Hall on Friday, May 13, 2011, as the band toured in support of fifth LP Dynamite Steps, released in February on Sub Pop. As evidenced on the remarkably crisp recording, the band doesn’t waste time with simmering build-up; opener “Last Night in Town” tears out of the gate with bludgeoning immediacy.

The group’s hybrid of noir rock, R&B and electronica barely lets up from there with just a few respites from the storm. The album isn’t lacking any of the improvisation defining Singers shows, with portions of classic rock or soul tunes tagged onto originals, reinterpreted and seamlessly merged into medleys to sound as if penned by Dulli himself. Notably, a tag of Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’ Together” takes on an indefinably sinister veneer.

The 21 songs are culled from each album of the Singers’ career. The surging “I’m Ready” is the sound of a sex drive urgently in need of release, while rave-up “Teenage Wristband” finds the band (and audience) at their most rapturous, the group seemingly determined to bring the hall down to its very foundation. Three tracks from their oft-overlooked trip-hoppy debut have changed the most in their live renditions. “Annie Mae” has grown from a sultry come-on to a floor-crawling plea for accompaniment into the abyss, while in “King Only” Dulli evokes a desultory Lucifer mourning the lost chance of a forfeited kingdom. Therein is Dulli’s greatest feat — he gets you to empathize with the devil.

Dulli’s serrated vocals are in top form throughout, from smoky crooning to howling with the rage of a wolf snared in a steel trap. How he doesn’t blow out his voice with every show is one of rock’s great mysteries. He overstretches the limits a bit, but hasn’t that always been part of his charm? Charismatic and braggadocios, Dulli’s Lotharian swagger suitably comes across as he bullshits with the crowd, his congregation clearly enthralled. “You know how to make a boy feel like Neil Diamond,” Dulli jokes amid the cheers.

Guitarist Dave Rosser, bassist Scott Ford, drummer Greg Wieczorek and violinist Rick Nelson are likewise at their peak, providing the perfect accompaniment for Dulli’s tales of hedonism and guilt. Nelson’s violin is of particular importance, running through the record like a humming electrical wire. In the apocalyptic “Bonnie Brae,” the violin sounds like tears running down a pane of glass, conjuring the sentiment of a person reaching out to a loved one shrugging the aid away.

All in all, the recording is just the latest proof that the Twilight Singers provide the perfect soundtrack for debauchery and the next morning’s aching regret.

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