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The Twilight Singers - Islington Academy, 28th January 2004

Once upon a time, at a loose end, I wandered along to see The Afghan Whigs. I didn’t know much about them, but I had nothing better to do. They blew my mind, I was hooked. Every time they came to town, I’d be there getting my fix of bruisingly sublime, smouldering rock ‘n’ soul. All good things must come to an end though, and the Whigs bowed out. End of an era.

Then lead Whigster, Greg Dulli, formed a new band, The Twilight Singers. As their name suggests, their records are softer, still black, but more contemplative.

Tonight London is sulking under a thick layer of gooey snow and Greg Dulli is back in town with the Twilight Singers. I’m expecting a toned down band, quieter sounds. It’s not really going to be like it used to be.

The Twilight Singers have played about two seconds of their first song ‘Esta Noche’ and it’s exactly, fantastically as ravishingly ravaging as ever. Break open the gaspers and chug that bourbon, it’s time for some proper rock ‘n’ rollin’ with the Gentleman himself. I come over all emotional and want to laugh and cry at once. Mr Dulli is, as ever, the coolest of the cool, a suave dark star pulling us into his orbit for two exhilarating hours. His voice, a blistering howl, is kept primed courtesy of a constant stream of Marlboroughs and Makers Mark. He is a master in the art of posing and punctuating with a cigarette. At one point, a lit one is thrown onstage from the audience, he catches it (told you he was cool) and takes a drag.

A constant stream of Makers Mark
Chug that bourbon The first half of the set bleeds and blisters through a selection of Twilight Singers songs, powered up live into exclamations of visceral, ear-shattering beauty. There’s ‘Twilite Kid’, ‘That Bird Sings’, ‘Love’ (slipping into a shivering verse of The Beatles ‘All You Need Is Love’) and the fearsome ‘Annie Mae’ all from first album ‘Twilight’ mixed with tracks from newie ‘Blackberry Belle’ that make me decide I have to get it immediately. They finish with ‘Black Is The Colour Of My True Love’s Hair’ and a question, "I was thinking, what if Dean Martin was the lead singer of the Zombies?" Good point, what if? Dulli proceeds to show us with a devilishly debonair version of ‘Time of the Season’.
Is that it then? Of course it bloody isn’t. Dulli returns alone and settles in behind the keyboard, flinging out a selection of covers which segue from the sublime to the ridiculous like some kind of musical Tourettes. There’s Outkast’s ‘Roses’, followed by a warning, ‘Now this is going to turn into a Stevie Nicks song, so don’t be alarmed when that happens.’ Sure enough, three Stevie songs turn up at once, ‘Sara’, ‘Gypsy’ and ‘Rhiannon’ which spins on the word ‘darkness’ to become briefly, oh yes, ‘Get Your Hands Off My Woman’ and ‘I Believe In A Thing Called Love’.

The rest of the band reappear to rip through old Whigs song ‘Uptown Again’ and I’m beside myself with joy. The covers-fest continues with an audience-thrilling version of Outkast’s ‘Hey Ya’, even the security bloke is grinning. Dulli, modest as ever, insists that he wrote ‘Hey Ya’ ‘about five years back, as I shall now demonstrate’. He proceeds to sing ‘Hey Ya’ over Whigs track, ‘66’. It works, the man’s a genius, a fact confirmed as the band hammer out a simultaneously touching and thunderous version of Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’.

exhilarated & exhausted or tired & emotional?

By now the band can’t fail and they wipe the floor with us, throwing in two final Afghan Whigs songs, the voluptuous ‘Crazy’ and the devastating ‘Faded’. We’re exhilarated and exhausted, this is how rock music is meant to be. Gig of the year already?

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