NYC 04 Review: Variety
(Irving Plaza, New York; 900 capacity; $20)
Presented by Clear Channel Entertainment. Band: Greg Dulli, Jon Skibic, Bobby MacIntyre, Michael Sullivan, Manuel Agnelli. Reviewed Oct. 16, 2004.
By DAVID SPRAGUE
At first glance, Twilight Singers leader Greg Dulli isn’t the most likely soul stirrer around. Raised in Cincinnati and weaned on punk rock, the former Afghan Whigs front man seems like something of a musical dilettante – until he opens his mouth to sing.
As Dulli proved at this Gotham perf (which, in the tradition of Prince, a clear role model, began in the wee hours of the morning), soul comes naturally to him. Every shimmering outburst of melisma, every ostentatious stage move – like employing a custom mike stand, outfitted with both a crystal ashtray and a cocktail holder – is carried off without a hitch.
Shored up, alternately, by Jon Skibic’s slide guitar and Manuel Agnelli’s electric piano, Dulli dipped into his own back catalog (particularly effectively on smoldering renditions of “Annie Mae” and the wrong-side-of-the-tracks ballad “Decatur Street”) but spent the bulk of the set working through the Twilight Singers’ recently released covers set “She Loves You.”
While Dulli has often infused his original material with an overproof brand of machismo, he chose to interpret covers that – by and large – spring from a more complex, and decidedly feminine, perspective. He carried that shift off remarkably well, drawing out subtleties of vulnerability and nurturing without making a real issue of the gender-bending.
As such, he was able to slip into the bruised-but-unbowed character Martina Topley-Bird created for
“Too Tough to Die” and channel the mourning-maiden folk delicacy of “Black Is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” Dulli’s flair for the dramatic underscored the passion of those songs but worked against him during an overwrought take on Bjork’s “Hyperballad.”
Perf’s most striking swath, however, came when Dulli and company dove into waters that most hesitate to approach – namely, a hypnotic interpolation of the introduction to John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” which dovetailed sweetly into a steamy take on Marvin Gaye’s “Please Stay.” It was proof positive of the old adage: Freeing the mind will indeed get the ass to follow.
The Twilight Singers play the El Rey in Los Angeles Wednesday.