Troubadour 04 Review
Reviews – Sound Checks
The Twilight Singers
Troubadour April 14
by Steven Hanna
Maybe Greg Dulli’s fans are more rotund than most, or maybe it’s that they flail a little more when they dance, but the sold-out crowd at the Twilight Singers’ Troubadour show seemed crowdeder than usual. From anywhere in the pit it constantly felt like your chin was on somebody’s shoulder or tucked into the crook of someone’s elbow, and by the frenetic closing charge through the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter” you had gotten to know that sweaty, overly talky guy standing next to you far better than you ever wanted to.
Or maybe it’s just that Dulli’s fans, like the man they came to see, exude so much presence that they fill up far more than a mere couple of cubic feet of physical space. Certainly Dulli himself has a kind of gravitational pull that makes him the center of any room he walks into, and even before he strode out into view his tour manager was dutifully lighting a fusillade of cigarettes and tucking them, lit, into the centerstage mic stand, waiting for the star who would smoke them to emerge. They and others like them smoldered away at Dulli’s lips all night long—roadies continued to carry lit cigarettes out to Dulli throughout the set, as if Dulli couldn’t be bothered to strike his own matches—and the great soulful dirge rock of the recent Blackberry Belle roared out as those cancer sticks ashed down, like Dulli was a music-making, passion-producing machine powered by the foul by-products of burnt tobacco. He was generous with songs from the Twilights’ two albums—“Teenage Wristband,” with backing vocals provided by buxom, honey-voiced guest Apollonia, sounded like sex itself translated directly into arena rock—and he pulled out a host of covers, many of which will show up on the Singers’ upcoming covers album, She Loves You, due this summer. A seedy, sinister take on the Billie Holiday classic “Strange Fruit” showcased the evil rasp of Dulli partner-in-crime Mark Lanegan, while the Martina Topley-Bird powerhouse “Too Tough To Die” snarled like a statement of purpose from a band full of guys who are probably indeed pretty damn tough.
The covers Dulli sprinkles through his sets have always been the greatest gifts he gives you — or perhaps the greatest gimmicks in his arsenal, depending on how you look at it. Often played in slowed-down, soulful renditions that expose the dark underbellies of familiar tunes, they feel dangerous and thrilling, and tonight’s stripped-down rendition of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or the meditative piano-ballad version of OutKast’s “Roses” wavered between being loving dissections and outright violations of these beloved songs. But there was something about Dulli’s faithful take on Bjork’s “Hyperballad” that felt subtle and seductive but no less dark, as if the juice stemmed entirely from his having wormed his malevolent persona into this gorgeous little bit of Icelandic innocence. Dulli smiled and he smoked and he sang, working a bit of devilish magic and deflowering a pretty thing, and just as secondhand puffs from a cigarette can smell awfully nice late at night in a dimly-lit bar, it was like Dulli was exhaling his creeping corruptions and filling the room with them: you kind of knew they were bad for you but you gulped them down anyway, loving how they made you feel. This is why they used to worry about what rock ’n’ roll can do to impressionable young people, and god help you if you’re exposed to Dulli at a tender age. But if you’re up for it, Dulli meant it when he quoted Prince midway through the show, crying out with menace and glee that “I’ve got a lion in my pocket, and baby he’s ready to roar!”