One of the most widely circulated Afghan Whigs bootlegs, from our own Paradise in May 1994, has the iconic alt-rock foursome busting out a loose and rollicking version of New Order's "Regret." It was one of those rare unexpected moments during a live gig that felt genuine and unplanned and made for a legendary show. This Wednesday, 17 years later almost to the day, Greg Dulli returns to the scene of the crime with the Twilight Singers, a post-Whigs outfit that packs just as much smoldering soul and tortured lament.
"Boston is a special place for me," he says after a soundcheck at a recent gig in Greece. "I did a movie in Boston [Monument Ave.] right when I started the Twilight Singers. So I lived in there for a month in Beacon Hill and got to know the town. Rock and roll is a pretty hit-and-run business; you don't really get to know Atlanta, you don't get to know Kansas City. You come to the venue and you play, but I actually got to hang out in Boston for four or five weeks."
This time around, he's supporting Dynamite Steps (Sub Pop), a deep, dark, stunner of an LP that treads along his recognizable themes as he seeks redemption, repenting for past sins both real and imagined. Every Twilight Singers project is a collective; this album features Ani DiFranco, Mark Lanegan, Petra Haden, and Verve guitarist Nick McCabe sprinkled throughout the proceedings. "It started out 14 years ago as a collective, and it's basically remained one, with me as the custodian of the sounds," Dulli explains. "I love that I get to sing with all these great singers . . . these people are all my friends, and they're great singers, and all the great instrumentalists known and unknown."
Dulli might be the custodian, but he has no intention of trying to dictate what his fellow musicians bring to the table. "They put their stamp on it. You don't tell Ani DiFranco what to do. No one does — ask her husband. The stuff she did, that's all her."
Reflecting on his time in the Whigs, he points out that their rep continues to grow, with newer acts like the Gaslight Anthem and the National citing the dark, aggressive, troubling psyche of touchstones like Gentlemen and Black Love as major influences. "I think we were a great band. We put on great shows and made the best records that we could and were always very respectful of our audience. I'm not surprised that people still are affected by that."
Dulli will turn 46 the night of the 'Dise show, but the last thing on his agenda is slowing down. He's been on the road for a couple years now, from his Gutter Twins project with Lanegan to a recent solo acoustic jaunt and now back to the full-band electric of the Twilight Singers. "We woke up in Athens and we'll fall asleep in Tel Aviv. I love playing the concerts. Being out on the road? Oof — that part's brutal. It's the old saying: you play the show for free, you get paid for the other 22 hours. It's sitting around, or being in a hotel or on a bus or on your way to the gig and stuff."