Craig Wedren/Greg Dulli at the Grog Shop in Cleveland, OH, 10.16.10

Craig Wedren

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.

Greg Dulli

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.

Greg Dulli Setlist

Die, Sloopy, Die: The Afghan Whigs

I find myself drawn to the music of Ohio artists. It could be some innate loyalty to or a sharing of basic ideas with my fellow Ohioans. Or it could be that Ohio turns out more excellent music per capita than the rest of the world. I may be biased, but I’m going with option B.

Die, Sloopy, Die is a tribute to great Ohio bands of the past and present. The name is an anti-tribute to our official state rock song “Hang On, Sloopy” by the McCoys because, while it is awesome that we were the first state to declare an official state rock song (and, so far, we are one of only two states to do so, Oklahoma having declared the Flaming Lips’ “Do You Realize??” their official state song), we chose one of the lamest songs it was possible for us to choose.

The Afghan Whigs

“Ladies, let me tell you about myself…”

The facts: The Afghan Whigs formed in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1986 with Greg Dulli on vocals/guitar, Rick McCollum on guitar, John Curley on bass and Steve Earle (no, not that Steve Earle) on drums. They were the first band not from the American northwest signed to Sub Pop Records. They released six studio albums, beginning with Big Top Halloween in 1988 and ending with 1965 in 1998.

The first time I heard the Afghan Whigs, they scared me. I was about twenty years old, and while I was not prim and proper, I had a frigging lot to learn. The tones of anger, which projected both outward and inward, that colored Greg Dulli’s vocals in the songs on their seminal album Gentlemen translated to menace in my ears.

It took me a couple of years to come around, and I don’t remember how it happened, but it seems like I went from being horrified by them one day to wanting to be all up in Greg Dulli’s business the next day. My then-husband and I set about collecting every album, EP, single, video, magazine article and any other items emblazoned with “The Afghan Whigs” that we could get our hands on (I retained possession of the collection when the husband and I split up, possibly because he feared grievous bodily harm if he tried to come between me and my treasures). They became, and remain, my favorite band.

“I’ve got a dick for a brain…”

If I had to use only one word to describe the Afghan Whigs cannon, it would be “swagger”. The story set forth when listening to their albums in chronological order is one of a group of angry, young punks who got into their mamas’ Stax and Motown collections one day, put on suave suits and never looked back. The anger remained, but now it was topped by a layer of strutting, smooth-talking cockiness.

Gentlemen is considered by many to be the Afghan Whigs’ masterpiece, concisely marrying their early punk energy to the soul spirit that would become their trademark. While their earlier albums showed promise, they were scattered, directionless. Gentlemen was a clear vision, sharp, slickly jagged, cleanly dirty.

The Afghan Whigs – Be Sweet

Their next effort – and one of my all-time favorite albums – Black Love, pushed the music further into soul territory while still retaining a metallic edge. A Curtis Mayfield influence weaves itself throughout, wrapping around images of sex, violence and religion. The whole album is a challenge: Step up or be stomped.

Then everything fell apart in the glorious mess that was 1965. It is an unrepentant party album, though it still carries Dulli’s characteristic Catholic guilt and flashes of brilliance within its decadent atmosphere.

“And my brain is gonna sell my ass to you.”

The Afghan Whigs became known for their way with a cover song, often taking songs that seemed innocuous, cutting them open and turning them inside out to expose their viscera. Songs like the Supremes’ “My World Is Empty Without You” and Freda Payne’s “Band of Gold” became suicide notes of abandonment in their hands. Al Green’s “Beware” turned from a plea to a threat. And if you never thought you’d want to get naked to a song from The Wizard of Oz, just listen as the quartet turns “If I Only Had a Heart” into a slinky, steamy torch song.

The Afghan Whigs-If I Only Had A Heart

In 2001, the Afghan Whigs went their separate ways (with a two-song reunion in 2006 for their Rhino Records retrospective Unbreakable), McCollum, Curley and their Spinal Tap-esque succession of drummers moving on to other projects, but none as successfully as Dulli. He has released four albums under the aegis of the Twilight Singers, with a fifth album on the way as of this writing. Additionally, he put out a solo album in 2005, an album with Mark Lanegan as the Gutter Twins in 2008 and in 2005, played in a live-only covers band called Uptown Lights – along with numerous other production jobs and guest spots.

Greg Dulli will be embarking on his first solo tour this October and on through November, playing stripped-down versions of his songs – including Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers titles. He’ll hit the Grog Shop in Cleveland on October 16.

Summer’s Kiss: A Greg Dulli, Afghan Whigs, Twilight Singers & Gutter Twins Compendium

The Twilight Singers Official Website

The Gutter Twins Official Website

Moon Maan Official Website (Rick McCollum)

Staggering Statistics Official Webstie (John Curley)

Ultrasuede Studio (John Curley)