By Alex Cason
March 17, 2016
It was 20 years ago to the day that The Afghan Whigs’ seminal album Black Love was released. March 12, Saturday night, marked the official 20th anniversary of the release of Black Love. It’s arguably their best album, although fans will continue to debate that for years to come. We learn this because frontman, Greg Dulli, proudly announces it to the crowd. Congregation and Gentlemen often get thrown in the mix as their best album ever, and it’s a good argument because no one is wrong, really.
In talking with the fans before the show, I found that each one has a personal Greg Dulli experience. A moment at a specific show, attached to a time and a place and a memory forever captured. Before the acoustic show even starts, the people and their energy are electric; somehow you knew all mistakes on stage would be forgiven, and all the fans really wanted to capture a glimpse of Dulli magic, trap it into a bottle forever, and sip on it for years to come.
For those who don’t know, seeing Greg Dulli perform live, as the lead singer for any of his many musical incarnations (Afghan Whigs, Twilight Singers, Gutter Twins) may as well be a religious experience. A gifted musical creator of R&B, rock, and rhythm, he often pays homage to musical legends and contemporaries. This time, on this acoustic tour, it feels as though he is giving a remarkable and personal gift back to his loyal fans.
Dulli chose the famous Sixth & I Historic Synagogue as the setting, springing to mind (by comparison) Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison: by taking a venue built for something otherworldly and making it his own. As he and his three band mates came out on stage, the crowd responded with some heavy cheers and applause, but stayed seated in their pews. Personally, after seeing The Gutter Twins at One Eyed Jacks in New Orleans, The Twilight Singers at Tipitina’s, and The Afghan Whigs three times before, I knew it wasn’t going to be long before that would change.
Beginning the show and setting the tone with The Afghan Whigs song “If I Were Going” (which foreshadows the entire Gentleman album and feels like a synopsis in retrospect), and carrying into the haunting tones of The Gutter Twins’ “The Body,” there was a distinct feel that all these songs would flow with that dark & dirty vibe of seamless harmony that only Dulli seems to have mastered. Even diving into the Björk song, “Hyperballad,” without the drums and the electronic sounds of the original, he owned it and found a way to make the lyrics personal.
A string of five terrific Twilight Singers’ songs followed, “There’s Been an Accident,” “Bonnie Brae,” “Papillon,” Teenage Wristband,” and “Martin Eden.” During “Papillon,” he invited the crowd to stand up and the brazen ones swiftly rushed the stage and secured their space, while the rest of the crowd spread out. The energy in the room soared, and this newly garnered synergy ran through Dulli’s veins and bled through his performance.
He slowed it down for “Step Into The Light,” the only other song to be played from the Black Love album, and he kept it slow with a few cover songs. The first one was an Appalachian-rooted traditional song, “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” followed by Rodgers & Hart’s “My Funny Valentine.” Dulli settled onto the keys for the high energy “She Was Stolen,” which reinvigorated the audience and had them enraptured for the rest of the set. There was a pause in the middle of the song, and it seemed to be a mistake or a test to us, the audience, but none of us cared. All was forgiven and forgotten. Either brainwashed or loyal to a fault, this is what Dulli has earned with his fans: creative reign and stage freedom to do anything he wants. He is a true entertainer and master of his craft.
Dulli and company ripped through “It Kills” from the most recent Afghan Whigs recording, then covered Leonard Cohen’s “Paper Thin Hotel,” and right into a very melodic and vocally inspired version of “Too Tough To Die” from The Twilight Singers’ She Loves You album. A stripped-down version of The Afghan Whigs’ “What Jail Is Like” ensued, and the crowd chanted along in perfect time. For the final song of the regular set, the air was filled with the inspiring and uplifting notes of “Can Rova,” a newer Afghan Whigs song that lives strongly without drums through vocal harmonies.
The rules of the traditional rock ‘n’ roll encore went right out the window this night when Dulli & Company jumped off stage for a few seconds and then popped right back on stage to close out the show. The crowd noise never subsided as they kept on cheering mercilessly until Dulli was ready to strum his first note of the encore.
A dark and dirty Gutter Twins’ song “Front Street” began the encore, and I flashed back to seeing Dulli and Mark Lanegan at One Eyed Jacks almost exactly eight years ago. The crowd swayed with the line “We’re going to have some fun, son” toward the end of the song, and you could feel people mesmerized by the moment. The crowd was properly entranced.
A beautiful rendition of The Twilight Singers’ “Number Nine” (it’s really Gutter Twins material) swelled the audience and led to a magical moment and the final masterpiece of the evening. As Dulli gathered himself after the song, he raised a cup and gave a cheers to the audience. Then his eyes scanned the audience and stopped for a brief moment, and he said, “I think the girl I wrote this song about is here tonight.” Such an impromptu statement even had the band on stage smiling as his guitar ramped up into the perfect ending with a perfectly inspired version of “Summer’s Kiss.”
It’s hard to add much more to a pretty amazing concert experience, so I urge you to get out and see this man on stage. Forge your own opinion. There are many great musicians that remain underappreciated, but rare is it to find one with such natural stage presence and connectivity to his fan base.
Bonus: Greg Dulli performs “Summer’s Kiss.”
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