Former Afghan Whigs front man Greg Dulli – the once infamous, self-styled lothario of grunge – stands centre-stage like a youthful Johnny Cash, dressed in black and playing a Gibson J-45 acoustic guitar. A commanding presence, he is flanked only by Dave Rosser on guitar and Polyphonic Spree’s violist, Rick Nelson. Billed as “An Evening with Greg Dulli”, it marks a change of atmosphere from his recent shows with Mark Lanegan which were, to say the least, both brooding and sobering.
Tonight there is an unavoidable awkwardness to the idea of an acoustic Greg Dulli solo show, which isn’t there in the solo acoustic shows of, say, Jeff Tweedy, Ryan Adams or Mark Eitzel. All the aforementioned hold American roots music so dear that they can effortlessly tap into various traditions and styles with only an acoustic guitar, thus breathing new life into songs which they have played throughout their careers. In contrast, Dulli’s heroes were always soul musicians such as Marvin Gaye, Al Green and Steve Wonder; music that would seem less fitting on folk instruments. Along with Dulli’s limitations as a guitarist, this doesn’t bode well for the evening.
Dulli, however, plays to his strengths. He elicits moods and atmospheres from the wealth of material he has accumulated from his stints in The Afghan Whigs, The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins. The set leans towards his work with The Twilight Singers; ‘The Killer’, ‘Candy Cane Crawl’ and set closer ‘The Twilight Kid’ are all aired along with a stunning version of ‘Teenage Wristband’, which incorporates a verse from The Who’s ‘Pinball Wizard’. Predictably, the songs which provoke the most sing-alongs are those by The Afghan Whigs. ‘Uptown Again’ and ‘66’, pure pop songs from The Afghan Whigs’ 1998 masterpiece 1965, provide an upbeat twist, as does ‘If I Were Going’ from 1993’s Gentlemen. From 1996’s Black Love, ‘Step into the Light’ is a dreamy, slide-guitar affair that offers respite in the middle section of the show.
The song which translates on the acoustic instruments most successfully, however, is ‘The Stations’, a Gutter Twins track that achieves the kind of gothic country darkness that Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy could only dream of. Yearning and menacing in equal measure, it involves the whole band more than any other song performed on the night and captures the intensity of the live setting more convincingly than any other song performed. Three new songs from the forthcoming Twilight Singers record are played, much to the joy of all those present.
Throughout the evening, Dulli plays the charming host. The interplay and banter between Dulli and the audience is a refreshing change from the cocksure, arrogant and swaggering Greg Dulli that once fronted The Afghan Whigs. It’s also a welcome change from the edginess of a Gutter Twins show. An Evening with Greg Dulli? If only it were a weekly event…