I’ve got “Groupie Radar”.
It’s an early warning system, finely honed, that allows me to look up at precisely the right time to catch a band walking past me in a darkened venue, or to see a couple of members sneaking out front for a cigarette (hello, Cold Cave a few weeks ago), or to happen across a young lanky singer-type skulking at the merch booth before their gig (hello, Yuck a few weeks ago). It’s handy.
So there I was, away for a weekend in Seattle, sitting with a friend at the Showbox before the Twilight Singers‘ gig, being bored to tears by the Generic Radio Friendly Plaid-Wearing, Bearded Rock Band that was opening, when I decided to nip out for a cheeky cig.
As I walk out, Greg Dulli – former lead singer of 90s indie band Afghan Whigs and current singer of TS – is walking past me. I reach out, beaming, and grab his arm. “Have a stellar show,” I say to Dulli. He smiles broadly and thanks me. I go out, giddy. On the way back, I walk past Generic Radio Friendly guy. Timing. *high fives myself*
I haven’t seen Dulli in about 15 years, and haven’t talked to him for 17. Not since this night, in fact. And I’m fascinated to finally see his newish thing, Twilight Singers. They haven’t toured Canadia in a while. Dulli’s got a gravelly howl, a kind of ugly sex appeal that says “Yeah, baby, I’ve seen it, done it, been a bastard, but now I’m gettin’ my shit together. Wanna come for the ride?”
Yeah, but how’d it all sound? Oh, you wanna know about the gig?
You know that 1996 film Beautiful Girls? The one with Timothy Hutton, Uma Thurman, Matt Dillon and the young and fabulous Natalie Portman? It’s a kind of darkly beautiful film set in the winter of a small town on the eve of a highschool reunion which NYC-dweller Hutton goes back for. In the movie, there’s a band that plays in the bar which happens to be Greg Dulli and the Afghan Whigs.
In real life, Twilight Singers are a darkly beautiful bar band.
Now, before you get your knickers in a twist over what may seem to be a reductionist comment, consider this: Twilight Singers play gritty rock music, the kind that’s been influenced by the shadows of New Orleans, the dark alleys of practically everywhere else and there’s a soulful backbone that supports it all. Dulli might be drugsclean but the songs are still kinda Bourbon-soaked. Opener “Last Night in Town” sounded eerie, as did the later “Gunshots” (from the I-recommend-new-album Dynamite Steps) and “Decatur St” from Blackberry Belle.
“Never Seen No Devil” was all strings and heartache…so what made it bar band-y? There was Dulli, either sitting at the piano, or waving his arm in the air in a circle for his gang (drummer, guitarist, bass, pedal-steel guy and violinist) like an old-school bandleader instructing them on when to drop the last note. And there was Dulli, standing far away from the mic, the back of the stage, belting out a bit of Peggy Lee’s “Fever” in the midst of “Too Tough to Die” (which was stellar). He weaved Steve Miller’s “The Joker” into “Papillion” and covered Smokey Robinson’s “Cruisin’.” And while I don’t remember which track it lead into, I coulda sworn I heard some heavy Pink Floyd Wall-era references. And “On the Corner”? Transported me back to Whigs era. Soooo goooood. Bits of covers. Some grit. Like your favourite bar band, you know?
When Dulli yelled for the back of the Showbox to stand up because “You can’t rock and roll sitting down” before launching into a more rollicking version of “Annie Mae”, it felt like that perfect moment at the bar, when you’re drunk, the person you’re with looks a little bit more appealing and the band’s playing your favourite (at that moment, *hic*) cover. Ending with a divine “Esta Noche”, Twilight Singers strutted off stage, and me? I thought: “Yeah, solid. It’s last call, somewhere on this planet. Another gin and tonic?” \m/
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