“It’s dealer’s choice. And I’m the dealer,” declares Greg Dulli. The front-man of The Afghan Whigs, Twilight Singers, and one half of the Gutter Twins, is roughly half-way through the opening night of the European segment of his ‘An Evening with Greg Dulli’ tour and an outspoken fan has shouted over the exuberant din of the crowd at Roisin Dubh to request Whig’s classic ‘Debonair’. Dulli is aiming to assert who exactly is in charge this evening. He says it with a laugh in his voice, but he’s serious too. After nearly 30 years in the music business, he has certainly earned the right to play by his own rules.
Back up a couple of hours and it’s a cold and damp February evening on the blustery west coast of Ireland. Galway’s legendary live venue Roisin Dubh, with its red velvet curtains and lights mirroring regular Dulli themes of lust, love and loss, is a suitably tawdry venue for his two month long solo jaunt to begin. This isn’t the first time Dulli has played here, with a previous gig from 2010 remembered fondly by all who were lucky enough to be there.
Italian alternative rock band Afterhours are pulling a double shift tonight, providing an idiosyncratic and musically adept support slot, and also comprising part of Dulli’s backing band. They’re down to a duo from a quartet, with vocalist/guitarist Manuel Agnelli and violinist Rodrigo D’Erasmo representing their sometimes noisy and always melodic brand of rock. At first, Overblown doesn’t know what to make of their Italian language led racket, but by the time their final song comes to a tumultuous and near discordant crescendo, we’re fully on board. As is the entire crowd filling up the venue.
By the time Greg Dulli takes the stage accompanied by his Afghan Whigs band-mate and guitarist Dave Rosser, things are going quite swimmingly. People are getting decently oiled and an eager patron of Roisin Dubh tells Overblown that he first saw Dulli in Chicago a few years back when he was visiting his brother. He claims we are all in for a real treat. We don’t doubt him. On stage, Dulli strikes an imposing figure. Clad all in black, and of a pretty sturdy build, he comes across as someone not to be trifled with. To contrast this, his repertoire this evening focuses more on his songs of loss rather than those of lust.
So strong is his body of work, that Dulli can focus on material from The Twilight Singers rather than his more famous work with The Afghan Whigs. Stripped down versions of Singers’ highlights ‘Bonnie Brae’, ‘King Only’, and ‘Papillon’ showcase this current ensemble’s ability to move seamlessly from the reflective and intimate to the more raucous and communal. These tracks slot smoothly next to examples of Dulli’s enduring ability to write songs of real substance in the form of ‘It Kills’ and ‘Can Rova’ from The Afghan Whigs’ latest long player Do to the Beast and a new song, perhaps called ‘Demon in Profile’, which allows guitarist Rosser to show off his talent.
In fact, throughout the gig Dave Rosser shows his ability to play both perfectly and with an abundance of seductive soul. His backing vocals are equally impressive and when he unleashes an unexpected baritone reminiscent of the late Clarence Clemons towards the end of the gig it delights and surprises in equal measure. Just as deserving of praise is Rodrigo D’Erasmo, whose fiddle playing adds a feeling to the music that is both earthly and grounding, and, at times, chaotic.
Unsurprisingly, Dulli’s penchant for eclectic covers is in rude health with choices ranging from the R&B of Shuggie Otis’ ‘Strawberry Letter 23’, to the Scottish traditional folk of ‘Black is the Colour’, and a solo acoustic rendition of Bowie’s ‘Modern Love’ which completes the set on a downbeat but glorious note. “I’m Greg Dulli. And I do what I want,” Dulli adds to chasten the aforementioned ‘Debonair’ demander. Who are we to argue with the man?
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