London 04 Review
Twilight Singers @ Islington Academy, London, 29.01.2004
James Berry and Gred Dulli’s insanely giggling entourage stand and worship a mighty Afghan showman. Ladies and Gentlemen, we proudly present the Barnum Singers….
It took him a few years, grunge’s soulful dreamer, but he got there, finally. ‘Blackberry Belle’, released last year, was in many ways the record he always promised to make. Afghan Whigs albums always tended to be slightly patchy affairs (except probably the crunchy explosion that is ‘Gentlemen’), but his second release as the Twilight Singers is a heads-down, covered in gasoline and sparkling in the sun, adrenaline-coursing masterpiece. The rhythm is exact, the content impassioned and the execution just raw enough. It’s the ‘Whigs ‘1965’ realised. There is next to nothing to fault. So it comes as a bit of a brainteaser as to why its performance is, on the face of it, little more than a Greg Dulli vanity project. We were expecting a little more dignity, if nothing else, from the author of the recent Twilight Singers releases. He does have more dignity in reserve, right? He sure didn’t bring it with him tonight, preferring instead to loll around on a wave of infamy like an afternoon drunk drifting out to sea on an inflatable.
The light-fingered care that was afforded to the recorded versions of songs like ‘Twilight’ (off the first album, ‘Twilight As Played By…’), ‘The Killer’ and ‘Martin Eden’ (from ‘Blackberry Belle’) was lost to the bolshy demands of a rock show, namely that posture and posing are elevated above all else. This is most explicitly illustrated when during one particularly tumultuous rock and roll climax he turns to his right and calls “Jon Skibic on guitar, everybody!”, things going all a bit Bon Jovi for at least a minute, and probably more, thereafter. Someone’s teenage dreams clearly never died. The 80s stadium reverb and bass sound do serve to solidly underline the shape of the songs, but most other aspects see them cracking when they reach a certain altitude. Not least his powerfully hoarse vocals, which should rocket the punch in songs like ‘Teenage Wristband’ and ‘Decatur St.’ through the stratosphere, but tonight are prone to stalling at just the necessary moment.
Yet still he receives nothing but rapture from the entourage-like audience, his every lame quip drowned in laughter, his every drag on his numerous cigarettes worshiped, his every question met with unreserved positivity. There’s no unconverting the converted, not when juicy snatches of his Afghan Whigs past are thrown in to keep them focused and attentive. And he’s quite the indulgent showman, fired by the knowledge that he can get away with it. He begins ‘Love’ as the encore alone on piano including schizo add-libs and promising that it will turn into a Stevie Nicks trilogy, “because I muthafuckin lurve Stevie Nicks”. And it does, as promised, but not before also adding a Darkness medley (‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman/I Believe In A Thing Called Love”), segueing into a dash of Ice Cube and finishing off with the Eric Clapton air-guitar standard ‘Layla’. And, hey, it’s entertaining. It’s an excessively self-assured man who’s already proved his worth acting up because he can. But it also betrays the strength and fragility of his latest songs. The hardest thing is admitting it’s a wiseass behind it all.