If you were to ask me who the greatest living songwriters were, I would have no hesitation naming the one I consider to be number one: Greg Dulli, former frontman and mastermind behind Afghan Whigs and current member of both the Gutter Twins (his collaboration with former Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan) and the Twilight Singers (his New Orleans-centric solo project that features a rotating cast of collaborators). There’s a new Twilight Singers album coming out early next year, but on Tuesday night (October 19), Dulli brought three band members onto the stage of New York’s Bowery Ballroom and delivered an acoustic set of songs from just about every corner of his long career. The set only drove home just how great Dulli has been (and continues to be).
Bathed in almost complete darkness (he asked that the lights be turned down, and two songs later asked they be turned down even more), Dulli powered through slightly tweaked versions of songs made popular by the Whigs (including the sultry, heartbreaking “Let Me Lie to You” and the punishing “Summer’s Kiss”) and the Twilight Singers (the savage singalong “Forty Dollars” and the show-closing “The Twilite Kid,” whose liquid groove picked up some welcome grit in unplugged form). Dulli’s songs are heavy (not like metal heavy — more like a Jim Jarmusch movie heavy), but he seemed almost effervescent on the small Bowery Ballroom stage, exchanging “Isn’t this awesome?” glances with his bandmates and cracking wise with the rapt audience (“I’m back like a motherf—er,” he said at one point. “I wish I had a fast one to play now, but I just looked at the set list … I’m going to have to start scripting my s— better”).
Along the way, Dulli test drove three songs from the forthcoming (and complete) Twilight Singers album, and each one sounded more potent than the last. Though the final products will no doubt be layered with psychedelic effects, layered keyboards and funky percussion, the new songs held up on their own in the mostly acoustic environment. They fit right in next to fan favorites like the punchy “Get the Wheel,” the spooky interpretation of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” the drowsily passionate “Step Into the Light” and a particularly savage take on “Teenage Wristband” (on which Dulli also dropped in a taste of the Who’s “Pinball Wizard,” a delightfully meta joke).
Dulli’s songs are quite adult (and not just because he’s in his mid 40s). They tell stories about making mistakes late at night amidst cigarette smoke and dive bar stank, and they appeal to anybody who has contemplated heartbreak over their fourth scotch. These are leathery, lived-in songs that are smart, sad and sexy all at the same time. Is anybody else doing these things as well? With little more than an acoustic guitar, three sidemen and his voice, Dulli threw down the gauntlet and said “Not f—ing likely.”