Greg Dulli’s Twilight Singers take us back into the darkness with the soulful Blackerry Belle
by Steven Hanna
Midway through last week’s Twilight Singers show at the El Rey, Greg Dulli led his band into a slinky vamp as he crooned the lyrics to “All You Need is Love.” Flattening the melody with a menacing grin, he made that very sweet song sound like he was whispering it teasingly into the ear of a bound, blindfolded lover, and he capped the concluding “Love is all you need” with a gleeful cry of “And so shall you receive, Los Angeles!” The four superb musicians behind him snapped into an astonishing rendition of Dulli’s own “Love,” off the band’s 2000 debut, and Dulli roared out contradictions of pretty much every one of John Lennon’s sentiments: “I’d kill for you/it’s sick, I know/but by definition of the word/love is blind/ and love is good.”
So this guy isn’t exactly producing the kind of music that makes the little girls’ eyes mist over. But then he isn’t trying to. Speaking on the phone a few weeks back, Dulli scoffed at the suggestion that he could lighten it up a little to sell a few more records: “Being something I’m not to try to get somewhere else? No way. Wouldn’t be able to brush my teeth or shave, ’cause I wouldn’t want to look at that fuckin’ charlatan in the mirror.”
After the 2001 breakup of his beloved former band, ’90s soul-rock masters the Afghan Whigs, Dulli took a few years off to unwind. “But if you’re hungry, you eat, and if you’re tired, you sleep,” he recalls, “and I wrote a song one day. I hadn’t really played an instrument in a year, and I just started playing guitar, and I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ve never heard this before…’” In the end the results of Dulli’s rediscovery of rock music, recorded under the aegis of his solo act the Twilight Singers, were thrown out when he was shaken by the death of good friend Ted Demme in early 2002. “In one second that record was rendered obsolete,” Dulli says flatly, “and it was, uh, time to plumb the emotional depths.” The songs that finally reached us this fall were all sadder, somberer affairs, and Dulli’s signature sexy grooves felt dressed up in mourning clothes.
But though the fine new Blackberry Belle is certainly darker as a result of Dulli’s bereavement, it’s hardly a break with his sweeping album-as-statement approach to making music, developed over the course of his five excellent albums with the Whigs. In an age where songs are swapped on the Internet and CD-length listening experiences are far out of fashion, it’s something of a throwback. But Dulli sounds typically cocky in his certainty that the record will find an audience, or in his professed indifference to its success: “Dude, I have been a walking anachronism since I came out. Tell me one trend I’ve ever fit into in my whole career. I never did, ever, and my not fitting in, is what makes me fit in. I really don’t give a fuck what somebody wants. I’m gonna give you what I want, and you can either like it, or don’t like it. My heart’s not broken either way.” As for the shows, he’s very glad to be back out on the road. “Man, I’d play the show for free,” he laughs, obviously meaning it. “I get paid for the 22 hours of fuckin’ around I do that day.”