Thursday, November 16, 2006

The Twilight Singers at The Cat

I've got a bone to pick with all of the music lovers and listeners out there. Over the last few years, since I first heard Blackberry Belle and began trying in vain to convert my friends into fans of the Twilight Singers, nobody has once mentioned just how damn good they are live. Maybe we were treated to a rare performance at the Black Cat, but something tells me that last night's show was par for the course with Dulli, et al.

When the band came through town last June, playing at the bigger, more established 9:30 Club, I had a ticket, yet opted to stay in for the night. I'm not sure why, but I think I was tired and skeptical that the Twilight Singers would be any good in a live setting. I think I may regret that decision for a long time to come. From the moment they stepped onto the candelabra-lit stage and the opening notes of "Teenage Wristband" twinkled out of Jeff Klein's keyboard, I knew I was going to see an amazing show. Songs were played from all incarnations of the band, focusing on their two better known and more recent albums, Blackberry Belle and Powder Burns, including "Papillon," "Fat City," snippets of "Amazing Grace" and "Shine One You Crazy Diamond," and a killer "Underneath the Waves" to close the show. I kept waiting for a kickass live version of "Decatur Street" but it looks like the band hasn't played that song for some time, so beggars can't be choosers.

As for the band itself? They were phenomenal. Bobby MacIntyre did his best Keith Moon impression on drums: sitting in the dark at the back of the stage, all I could make out was a flurry of hair, sweat, and drumsticks whirling around. And who knew Dave Rosser could hit those high harmonies meant for Apollonia, all while dominating on lead guitar? Also trotted out for a few songs in the middle of the first set, as well as for the encore was baritone-singing extraordinaire Mark Lanegan, formerly of Screaming Trees, giving Dulli a much-needed periodic rest. Scott Ford's bass was steady and, thankfully, cranked up pretty loud, announcing to the crowd that the band wasn't messing around, and as his first note rumbled out of the speakers and through my core, a huge smile crept upon my face. Jeff Klein spent most of the evening behind the keys, occasionally trading rhythm guitar duties w/ Dulli. And the brawn and the brains behind the Afghan Whigs and the Twilight Singers, Greg Dulli, was in top form. His voice sounded strong, despite a recent vocal strain which caused the band's Athens, GA show to be canceled. And by the end of the evening, he looked like he could still play for another two hours.

I think what surprised me most was how much energy the five-piece band brought to the stage. Their albums are so heavily produced that I had a hard time imagining how that sound would translate into a live setting. But witnessing the Twilight Singers in person made me realize that all of the horns, strings, backup singers and effects heard on the albums are really not necessary. I'm not trying to imply that the albums are worse because of the production, far from it, but I am trying to say that the live experience is so much more energetic. The band that plays on Blackberry Belle and, to a lesser extent, Powder Burns is extremely sensual and moody, recording albums that should be heard in their entirety. The live band, on the other hand, is fun, boozey, and slightly surly, temporarily transporting all witnesses from whatever dreary day-jobs they might have to the moldy, throbbing basement in New Orleans where Greg Dulli pounds his guitar, keyboards, and scotch with equal force.

After finally getting the opportunity to see the Twilight Singers live, I think I now know what Greg Dulli's mindset must be going into every recording session with his ever-rotating band of musicians. He's clearly trying to bottle that magic that can get an entire room of Washington D.C. hill staffers, lawyers, and consultants moving to his drums, his guitars, and his screaming voice. What I do know for sure is that I'll never, ever let a little thing like exhaustion get in the way of attending one of their concerts again.

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