I remember a moment. It has been haunting me a bit.
It was while Greg Dulli – the man best known for leading the Afghan Whigs and least known for his wonderful Twilight Singers – was absolutely nailing his cover of Nina Simone’s “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair” right into the wall of the Biltmore Cabaret.
A friend of a friend had seen the Chicago show of this weird little tour (featuring a rare solo Dulli, with award-winning misfit poet Derrick C Brown). “He said it wasn’t that good,” the friend said, “He liked the opening guy better.” I shrugged.
Brown turned out to be amazing. Buddy was right about that at least.
Literary folks should tour with music folks more often – like when Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer do it. It makes me feel more cultured by proxy, and that’s what’s really important, right?
Derrick read from his poems, his collection called Uh-Oh, and faked-played the piano. He cracked wise. Told edgy stories in that poetic way that poets do, and then asked what time it was. When I told him “8:55” he corrected me and said to the room, “NOPE! It’s ROMANCE TIME!” then read a fucked-up love story of sorts. Only after that did I notice he was actually wearing a watch.
He asked if anyone knew how to slow dance. A cute girl he’d noticed from before, offered herself up. He hopped off the stage and into the small crowd, with the mic. They held each other close on the floor of the club, going round and round slowly like it was the last song of your grade 8 school dance, the “Stairway to Heaven” moment. He read his poem while they danced, over her shoulder. She laughed in all the right places. Her name was Megan. No H.
I went to buy an Uh-Oh afterwards but they’d sold out. Brown told me Amazon had them, then later complimented me on my all-black outfit. He was in a good mood. Derrick Brown is a funny guy but it begs the question as to how Dulli managed to hook up with this guy? Dulli joked that he’d heard about Derrick when he was dating his mom. Har har.
Dulli is smart with words, so touring with a guy who is also smart with words makes sense. And while Derrick C Brown may have liked my all-black outfit, he lied to me. Amazon doesn’t have his book for me right now. Uh-Oh isn’t out until September. You should probably buy his other books in the meantime.
Back in November, I was in New Orleans and my AirBnB hosts told me that they’d seen Greg Dulli around at parties, and he didn’t live too far from where we were in the Marigny, I’d heard. Maybe in Bywater. I sought out the R Bar, the watering hole in the Royal Street Inn that he owns near Frenchman Street and read his article in GQ looking for hints on where to go. I’ve only just now connected some dots – there’s a weird instrumental on the Twilight Singers’ Twilight album called “Verti-Marte.” It’s named after this raggedy little corner store on Royal Street. I ate some po’boys there because my local friend said I had to. It’s a shifty little place across the street from the LaLaurie house, but their All That Jazz po’boy was INSANE. You gotta try it if you go.
My AirBnB hosts thought Dulli seemed, uh, cocky. Only they didn’t use that word. I laughed. Dulli can be ornery sometimes, to be sure, but whatever. Maybe you’re allowed to be when you’ve written a ton of great music, and one of the best and most uncomfortable albums – Gentlemen – of all time. And in the times that I’ve met him – when we were drunk as sailors in 1994 in Toronto, or in passing at Sub Pop’s 25th Anniversary in Seattle – he’d never not been a Gentleman to me.
But in Vancouver, we were all warned before the show – by my friend Larry who used to tech for Dinosaur Jr and has been on tour with Dulli for aeons – not to take photos with a flash. It was a “showstopper” for Dulli, Larry said. Whispers had gone around, too. That he’d stopped a song mid-way in another town. So when a flash went off in Vancouver, we all got very fucking nervous, very fucking fast.
Dulli politely asked the offender to turn off the flash. The club laughed nervously. The guy yelped out a “sorry.” Dulli couldn’t quite hear him, so asked for a repeat.
Like a “murder of crows”, is there a phrase for a collection of cringers?
We all stiffened. “HE JUST SAID HE WAS SORRY” a brave soul piped up, Canadian-ly. “Oh it’s okay,” said Dulli, and then faked a huff, “that’s it, I’m OFF!” he joked.
There was a collective exhale in the bar, but we all knew he coulda if he wanted to. And we woulda been sad.
But back to that moment. Have you heard the Simone original? It’s phenomenal and eerie as hell. Here, flanked by his actual Twilight Singers compadres Dave Rosser on guitar and Rick Nelson on piano, violin and bass (stellar musicians in their own right), they were doing it justice. Dulli was making it sound the way he does in most of his songs, like the devil’s creeping nearby, about to rain fire around you, or kiss you hard. Or all three.
About 2 minutes in, it came, an almighty crescendo. “….WILL BE AS ONE!!!!!!” he belted, and there was a moment where I did an actual double-take and shook my head. I usually listen to Dulli with my eyes closed, you see, because his shit is just so intense sometimes. I turned to a friend. His jaw was right there on the ground, too, I swear to gods.
“Looks like your friend in Chicago had wrong information,” he yelled.
Yeah, that guy didn’t know nothing. Dulli was actually up there having a good time. He said so to me afterwards, too. “I had a real good time,” is what he said. Just like that. And you could tell. In front of the small but reverent crowd, Dulli was doing one of those shows where you can tell that they actually give a shit. Shows like that don’t happen enough. I can tell a “going through the motions” show a mile off, and this wasn’t it.
The audience respectfully canned their yapping and paid their respects, too, and that helped. Gods bless a Tuesday evening crowd, who are there because they truly want to be. And from the second that “If I Were Going” started us off from Gentlemen, through “The Body” down through “Bonnie Braie” over and into the slow swing of “Step into the Light”, and headlong into the “Twilite Kid”, I wasn’t the only one listening with their eyes closed, heads nodding.
There were other moments, of course, a cover of “Paper Thin Hotel” by Leonard Cohen – who once told me I was beautiful, twice – and Dulli folded in a few lines from “She Loves You” by the Beatles, too. But it was the Twilight Singers’ “Too Tough To Die” that was stellar again. It always is.
It felt like too short a set, but by the time he kicked off the three-pack encore with “The Spell”, we were all under one. After the show, I had a lot of things to say to Dulli, mostly about New Orleans, but forgot them all. We cuddled up close for a photo with him and Derrick. Behind my back, the boys were feeling up each other’s heads, having fun. Yeah, when Greg Dulli has fun, we all get to have fun. And man, that was fun. \m/
Click on the photos to embiggen and scroll through