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London 2004 Review

The Twilight Singers, Islington Academy, London
by Simon Price

Age does not bother (nor wither) Greg Dulli, the devilishly suave Greek-American who put the sin into Cincinnati, and the natty. The Afghan Whigs were the most underrated surfers of the grunge wave, largely because they had little to do with grunge at all. When they quietly disbanded at the end of the Nineties, one feared we’d heard the last of Dulli, but he soon resurfaced with a new project, The Twilight Singers, who – as the name suggests – are marginally more sepulchral and vespertine in tone than his previous incarnation.

Marginally. Onstage, The Twilight Singers are as paint-blisteringly powerful as the Whigs in their prime, and Dulli has lost none of his relish for the stage. Afghan Whigs shows were always enlivened by surprising cover versions (TLC’s “Creep”, Prince’s “When Doves Cry”), and tonight is no exception.

In addition to highlights from the Twilights’ two (excellent) albums, including a track dedicated to Dr David Kelly (“Martin Eden”), and a scattering of Whigs classics, this show is dominated by excerpts from Greg Dulli’s internal jukebox.

So we get Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” running into The Isley Brothers’ “That Lady”, Abba’s “Dancing Queen” segued into Gershwin’s “Summertime”, silly romps through Judas Priest’s “Living After Midnight” and the Beverly Hills 90210 theme (no kidding), a sublime rendition of Kate Bush’s “Cloudbusting”, a snatch of Ice Cube’s “Wicked”, and a verse from The Beatles’ “All You Need Is Love” (which has never sounded so sinister).

No two Dulli shows are ever the same. It helps that most Whigs/Twilight songs follow an identical chord pattern, allowing Greg to inter-reference chunks of his songs in a mix-and-match manner, to reprise and echo themes like a great cinematic composer. Dulli’s a supernaturally cool performer, never seen without a smoke hanging from his lip (he has a specially-constructed cigarette holder on his mic stand), and there’s much dramatic use of tobacco choreography. Even the drummer’s in on the act, hitting a cymbal with a lit Marlboro, then flicking the ember in an arc towards the wings stage-right.

“I was thinking…” Dulli drawls between puffs, “what if Dean Martin was the lead singer of the Zombies?” (He’s writing his own reviews now!) What follows is an incredible version of the Zombies’ “Time of the Season” in a Dino style, which could plausibly be a Dulli original: “Who’s your daddy? Is he rich like me?” The encores are better still. Greg sits solo at the electric piano and breaks into “Roses” by Outkast (“I know you like to think that your shit don’t stink…”), then follows it with a wondrously improbable Stevie Nicks trilogy (“Sara”, “Gypsy”, “Rhiannon”) which, at the line “she is like a cat in the dark, and then she is… The Darkness”, mutates into a “Get Your Hands Off My Woman”/ “I Believe In A Thing Called Love” medley.

One of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Should I ever find myself stricken down with a terminal ailment, one of my dying wishes is to see off a bottle of whiskey in Greg Dulli’s company, with a pile of his favourite records. Failing that, another Twilight Singers show will do just fine.

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