Boston 04 Review

Is Greg Dulli the New Prince? The Twilight Singers Rock the Paradise
by Brett Cromwell

SubterraBoston Ear Candy

God bless Greg Dulli. Thanks to his ability to balance an affinity for ballsy blues rock and a love of old-school soul, even the manliest of men can rock out at a Twilight Singers gig with the added satisfaction of knowing that his female companion at the show is sure to be just as happy…and hopefully horny. Over the course of several Afghan Whigs releases and, more recently, two albums with his Twilight Singers collective, Dulli has managed to meditate on the many facets of love and relationships (appealing to the yin among us) with a cynical voice, a lot of angry shouts, and some damn talented support musicians (for the yang in the crowd).

Birthed in Cincinnati in the late 80’s, the Afghan Whigs quickly became critical successes with the release of their major-label debut, ‘Gentlemen,’ a dark and brutally honest album of post-relationship heartache that found a niche with those who were a bit too high-brow (or lovestruck) for the grunge assault dominating the airwaves at the time. Dulli’s appreciation of soul/R&B became more evident with the next Whigs release, ‘Black Love,’ and especially on ‘1965,’ with its seductive vocals, sex-addled lyrics, and sultry brass accompaniment.

Following the ‘1965’ tour, the Whigs disbanded and Dulli took up residence in New Orleans, where he soaked up the rich and diverse musical history prevalent there, jamming with some of the city’s most talented musicians. This eventually led to the first Twilight Singers album, ‘Twilight as Played by the Twilight Singers,’ which provided a quieter sound than the Whigs guitar-based rock, focusing more on piano, vocals, and soft atmospherics. As ringmaster, Dulli pulled together an impressive lineup, including Martin Barrett (Screaming Trees), Shawn Smith (Brad, Pigeonhed), and Harold “Happy” Chichester (Howlin’ Maggie).

Of course, the beauty of spearheading a music collective is the opportunity to shift musicians with each album, and Dulli upped the ante for the Twilights follow-up, ‘Blackberry Belle,’ inviting everyone from Mark Lanegan to Apol-friggin-lonia (yes, Prince’s eye-popping co-star from ‘Purple Rain’) to help out. The result, released in late 2003, was another set of powerful songs in a similar vein to the Twilights first outing, but with a more varied sound, undoubtedly due to the wider variety of guests. Though initially intriguing, this approach actually results in a less cohesive whole when compared to ‘Twilight’ – disjointed, but undeniably powerful.

But what about a touring band? How could Dulli possibly pull together a semi-permanent team to capture not only the expansive sound of ‘Blackberry Belle’ but also the sexiness of ‘Twilight’ and the Afghan Whigs’ releases from the 90’s? Expectations were high at the Paradise on April 2, and the situation was further complicated by the endurance test we were all doomed to undergo that night.

Hard to believe, but after enjoying a powerful opening set by Dear Leader, patrons at the show were treated to a brutal one-hour plus wait for Dulli and company, during which time your humble reviewer managed to experience the full gamut of human emotion – excitement, followed by less eager anticipation, then confusion, eventually annoyance, and finally downright anger. At 11:25 (the schedule posted out front promised a 10:15 headliner start time!), the Twilights hit the stage amidst tired and ambivalent applause. After a wait that long, the crowd wanted blood.

Apparently, Dulli didn’t get the memo regarding Boston’s recent smoking ban, either. He sauntered on stage with his token cigarette-in-mouth, looking like some kind of modern-day Brando (less ‘On the Waterfront,’ however, and more ‘Apocalypse Now’, sans the bald head). Between long drags and quick coughs, he spent the next hour belting out an equal number of tunes from each of the Twilights’ albums, sprinkling in a few Afghan Whigs faves to keep old-school fans happy.

As for his supporting musicians, the band he’s assembled for this tour are spot on and bursting with talent, supporting Dulli with beautiful piano and synth, thudding bass, and virtuoso guitar solos. Special recognition should be given to drummer Bobby McIntyre, whose stellar skins work carried the band almost as much as Dulli. However, considering the wait we all endured, the set was surprisingly short, leaving yours truly quite upset, despite a fantastic one-two-punch closer (blazing covers of Bjork’s “Hyberballad” and Nina Simone’s “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair”).

Thank God for double encores. After a brief stint backstage, the band returned for a few fun numbers, including none other than a cover of Outkast’s “Roses.” Hearing Dulli sing “I know you like to thank yo’ shit don’t stank/but lean a lil’ bit closer, see roses really smell like poo poo poo” was worth the price of admission AND the hour wait.

And just when it all seemed to be over, they returned again, saving the best for last. Following a haunting cover of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, the boys dipped into the Whigs back catalog, delivering a trio of showstoppers that helped solidify that band’s importance in 90’s alternative rock. As the Paradise’s famous disco ball threw spinning reflections all over the room during the heavenly chorus of “Faded,” the final song of the evening, there was no denying the spell those of us in the crowd were under. It was Dulli’s “Purple Rain”, and we sang our hearts out right along with him, confirming without a doubt that yes, we feel his pain.

Though his staggering smoking habit (I think I counted approximately two minutes during the course of the entire set that he was without a stogie) may prevent him from making it to 45, Greg Dulli has already made his mark in music by marrying his love of vintage soul with guitar-heavy modern rock. If their set at the Paradise is any indication, the upcoming Twilight Singers covers album is sure to please salivating older fans and hopefully will pick up a few new fans as well. Let’s just hope the touring incarnation of this collective continues to bring the power that we all felt at the Paradise that night.

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