Given my long-standing love for Greg Dulli (generally referred to in my world by his proper name: Greg fucking Dulli), it was a given that I would jump on tickets to this special acoustic show, Dulli’s first solo tour. When it was announced that Craig Wedren of Shudder to Think would be opening, my eyes nearly rolled back in my head. In the later 1990s, before bands began breaking up and band members died, my holy triumvirate of music was topped by the Afghan Whigs with Morphine and Shudder to Think anchoring the other corners. I was fortunate enough to see each of these bands play before tides turned, and I cherish the memory of those shows. To be able to check in with the frontmen of two of those bands in one night was a special treat.
Wedren looked exactly as I remembered seeing him back in 1997 when Shudder to Think toured in support of 50,000 B.C.: fresh, lean and handsome with a spectacular smile and a sparkle in his eye. Mixing his solo and film work (including a song from his project Baby) with a few Shudder to Think favorites – like the ubiquitous “Red House”, “Hit Liquor” and “X-French Tee Shirt” – Wedren switched off between acoustic and electric guitars and occasionally employed a loop station to create a rich layers of sound. And he was as at ease on stage as ever, cracking wise, musing and making dedications to his mother and his wife.
Craig Wedren’s best instrument has always been his voice, and it remains strong and supple. He ranges from baritone to falsetto and back again with ease, sometimes using the loop station to create eerie harmonies with himself. Beautiful from start to finish.
When Greg Dulli took the stage, flanked by frequent collaborator Dave Rosser on guitar and Rick Nelson on cello and violin, it seemed he might be satisfied to rest on his laurels for this low-key “Evening with”. While the first four songs of the set, which included the Gutter Twins’ “God’s Children” and brand new Twilight Singers’ track “Blackbird and the Fox”, were good, something was missing. The renowned Dulli fire was set to low. But with the Twilight Singers’ stormy “Bonnie Brae”, the burner was turned to high, and that familiar, scorching howl rolled forth from Dulli’s ragged throat.
Though the evening was heavy with Twilight Singers songs, Dulli did, as promised, trot out some Afghan Whigs classics like “Let Me Lie to You”, “If I Were Going” and “Summer’s Kiss”, and even, per an audience request, an unscheduled turn on “66″ (the first time played on this tour, Dulli quipped that Cleveland had broken his cherry).
The encore, which kicked off with the Twilight Singers epic “Candy Cane Crawl”, contained the only true non-album cover of the night, a passionate take on José González’s “Down the Line”, culminating in Dulli’s repeated howl warning “Don’t let the darkness eat you up”. It was a goosebumps moment.
Dave Rosser already has a solid reputation as a stand-up guitarist and didn’t fail to impress, but it was Rick Nelson who really shined on the strings this night, sometimes flowing a layer of incomparable beauty under a song and sometimes ramping up the passion to roof-blowing proportions.
But it wasn’t a perfect evening. In attendance was the drunkest crowd I’ve ever experienced in such a small venue, and they kept sending their loudest, gabbiest emissaries to stand right in front of the stage and chit chat, both to Dulli and among themselves, through both sets of the night. One particular offender, who had bullied her way rudely in front of people who had been holding their spots for two hours, had to be called out by Dulli twice before she got the message to “shut your fucking mouth”. It was possibly the first time I’ve ever left a show annoyed.