Islington Academy, London Review
Friday January 30, 2004
Greg Dulli’s previous band Afghan Whigs were the first from outside Seattle to be signed to the Subpop label, original home of Nirvana. At the height of grunge, one of the whitest forms of music imaginable, they were alone among their peers in their passionate appreciation of black music, regularly including, say, Prince covers in their live shows. Since their demise, leader Dulli has made two albums with the Twilight Singers, a shifting group of musicians, the first a brave but flawed collaboration with British down-tempo remixers Fila Brazilia. New album Blackberry Belle is a more successful return to rockier territory, but in no way a preparation for tonight’s show, which conjures the blasted, blistering panoramas of Afghan Whigs at their very best.
Dulli is a consummate showman, a bear of a man but impeccably suave and infinitely mischievous. There are very few singers who have grasped the lascivious potential of the cigarette as prop with quite Dulli’s self-satirising aplomb. He is also, like Joy Division’s Ian Curtis, one of the great singers who can’t actually sing, his voice, whose extraordinary expressive power renders irrelevant the need to always hit the notes head on, alternating between a lacerating and lacerated howl and a sexually charged whisper.
What’s most remarkable is how well the new material stands up next to the best of Dulli’s back catalogue. Decatur St, Papillon and The Killer (all from Blackberry Belle), freed from the slightly dated production of the album, have all the visceral power of classic earlier songs like Black Love. Typically, there’s a slew of covers and snippets of covers: OutKast’s Hey Ya, Fleetwood Mac’s Rhiannon, and the Zombies’ Time of the Season transformed into a smouldering, southern soul shuffle. Dulli makes rock ‘n’ roll seem raw and vital and dangerous and, most of all, fun.