Greg Dulli walked out on stage Wednesday evening at the Henry Fonda Theatre, aka The Musicbox and my heart skipped a beat. I’ve never seen Dulli live, in any of his projects, so this was a monumental treat for me. However it was also a major relief. Through occasionally watching footage on the internet since 2006’s Powder Burns became a permanent fixture in my soul I’ve see the man grow tired, weary-looking and bloated. If you’re a fan it’s no secret Mr. Dulli has some addiction problems (who doesn’t?) and following him from afar I’d begun to worry about him in the way I worry about all of my favorite artists when they seem to take a downward turn. However, just before the release of this year’s Dynamite Steps I was actively following the press for the album and saw repeated reports that Mr. Dulli had ‘gone clean’. I should add here that other than for the health of the person, I don’t give a toss about who does what with their body. Artists and musicians, housewives or stock brokers, if you can keep it in control and don’t fuck up other people’s lives with your vices, I refer to and paraphrase Mr. Hendrix – it’s gonna be you who has to die when it’s your time, so live your life the way you want to. Well, whatever the impetus Mr. Dulli’s transformation has been grand -Wednesday night when he took the stage he looked fantastic – bloating gone, eyes alight with the performer’s fire and a certain enthusiasm and ease with which he did everything from say hello to throw down songs on piano and guitar to back a full several feet off the front line mics, conduct his band down to a whisper and improv out a healthy portion of the lyrics to Eddie Cooley and John Davenport’s ‘Fever‘. So now we’ve got the man back in top form and I for one loved every minute of it.
There was an amazing camaraderie on stage with The Twilight Singers that seemed to seep into and transform the usual LA crowd into a much more pleasant beast – I don’t think I saw one person on a cell phone the entire night (which is nothing short of A-MAZING in this town). And the camaraderie was infectious too – there were several guests on stage, the first of which was an add-on from opening band Margo & the Nuclear So and So’s*, Erick Kang.
Kang added immensely to the thick and soulful sound with work on both the Lap Steel and second Violin, while regular string-man Rick Nelson, right-hand man David Rosser, and rhythm section Scott Ford and Greg Wieczorek** played through a set that covered all of the bands’ albums and saw them all enjoying themselves immensely as Dulli moved them from set-(and new album)-opener ‘Last Night in Town’, through to highlights ‘Fat City (slight return)’, ‘Forty Dollars’, ‘Bonnie Brae’, ‘The Killer’ and the brilliant cover of Martina Topley-Bird’s ‘Too Tough To Die’ the group recorded for 2004’s She Loves You.
But I did say guests, as in plural, yes? Not that seeing Dulli and his band wasn’t enough, but one question had been lingering in my mind the entire time building up to this show – would Mark Lanegan stop by for a song or two? Well, yes indeed the he did, popping in for a quick number (which I did not recognize but was probably from 2000’s Twilight As Played By The Twilight Singers). This was a treat – Lanegan came off his and Dulli’s Gutter Twins album and tour by moving right into a second collaboration with Scottish musician Isobel Campbell. And although currently immersed in recording a new solo album (to follow-up 2004’s brilliant Bubblegum) there has been talk from both Mr. Lanegan and Mr. Dulli of another Gutter Twins album. In the meantime however Mr. Lanegan lends his harsh and beautiful low-register vocals to several songs on Dynamite Steps, and so the possibility of a stop-in seemed more than likely. And when it came to fruition, despite my ignorance of the song they played together, it was good to see the two long-time friends together on stage, both clearly relishing the chance to do so again.
Dulli fulfilled my expectations and then some. His obviously renewed health saw him in high spirits and top form; the set moved through an hour and a half without a single hiccup and with wonderful little improv moments and surprises here and there, such as when the opening to Dynamite’s ‘Waves‘ saw Dulli interpolating Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part 1‘ lyrics on top of it. And the guys all moved with such grace, running from the mellow to the more frantic numbers like the aforementioned ‘Waves’ or the classic ‘Teenage Wristband‘, guitars blazing where appropriate and backing all the way off on occasion to let vocals, or even violin take the spotlight, showing that this isn’t just Dulli’s band, it’s the other musicians’ as well.
* Who were pretty damn awesome in their own right, and Mr. Kang was a notable reason for this. I should also mention that Jonneine Zapata was the local opener and although we only caught the last two songs of her set, it was fantastic. She has an amazing voice and a stage presence that seemed to literally pull the audience toward her.
** Hopefully I didn’t miss anyone – The Fonda had closed the balcony, for which we paid extra $$$ for seats, knowing we’d be exhausted after two days in Vegas with little sleep and a five-hour car ride home before heading up to the show. Early and indeed worn thin the venue was nice enough to accommodate early-arriving balcony-seat holders with booths on either side of the stage. We sat at the furthest forward and thus for most of the show we missed stage right, our line-of-sight instead held by Dulli, Rosser and Kang most of the time (and Lanegan, who was almost close enough for us to touch).