Greg Dulli is in the middle of a remarkable year.
His band, indie-rock pioneers the Afghan Whigs, has reunited for its first tour since 1999. The prestigious All Tomorrow's Parties organizers tapped him to curate their I'll Be Your Mirror Festival, which starts in Manhattan Sept. 21. And his beloved Cincinnati Reds are serious pennant contenders for the first time in years, though Dulli doesn't want to jinx it.
"I have no complaints in my life right now," Dulli says, calling from his Los Angeles home during a break from the Afghan Whigs' current tour. "I feel blessed and fortunate, and I'm having a wonderful time."
That's quite the turnaround for a guy best known for the way he applies his soulful vocals to some dark emotions, as well as raucous guitar. However, Dulli says the reunion with bassist John Curley and guitarist Rick McCollum has really shown him how much the band has affected people's lives.
"I've been humbled by the reaction," he says. "There's been a few times where I've had to just turn around and stare at Cully to keep going. . . . It's a sharing of an experience with a group of people who have, by and large, hung with me for a long time now. It has even started to change generationally. It's cool to meet some young kids who hang out after the show to say, 'hi' and find out how they got there."
On the current go-round with the Afghan Whigs, Dulli has been able to appreciate everything a bit more, able to draw on his experience as part of the Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins to enjoy the experiences as they happen.
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Having a moment
For the band's first public performance in 13 years -- an appearance on "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon" in May -- Dulli knew exactly what he wanted to do. "There's this video of Al Green singing 'Tired of Being Alone,' and he's wearing a checked suit and a turtleneck and a bracelet -- that was my homage to what that moment meant to me," he says. "It was cool for me because I was not only not going to play guitar on TV for the first time, I was not even going to use a mic stand. We got to use the white amps. Ahmir played drums. It was just a straight-up thrill.
"I remember the first time I saw D'Angelo, and I was just watching the drummer half the time," Dulli continues. "Now, there was that guy, and he's playing drums for me. . . . I'm singing a Queenie Lyons song, which I had DJ'ed for years. It was just all a rush of stuff. Hey, look, there's John Curley playing bass! It was wild."
Dulli says that even looking in the crowd and seeing fans he had been seeing for years at his solo shows, at shows with Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins, made singing the wrenching "See and Don't See" even more memorable.
"It was the very definition of surreal," he says. "If your life can pass in front of your eyes in two seconds, imagine what happens in four minutes."
Help from his friends
Curating the festival also has been a walk down memory lane for Dulli in many ways, as many of his friends, old and new, are on the bill. Although he was able to land R&B's hottest star, Frank Ocean, for the festival, after the Whigs covered Ocean's "Lovecrimes," Dulli didn't get everyone he wanted for the event.
"Harrison and Lennon weren't available," he says. "Presley didn't answer the Ouija board, either. One thing I really wanted was David Crosby to do 'If I Could Only Remember My Name,' but he's out on tour."
Dulli says all he wanted was to create eclectic days of great music that made concertgoers have a good time. "I've been trying to meet wild, crazy expectations with as much positivity as I possibly can," he says.
That's also how he's looking at the future, which is, by design, unclear. The band has released two singles since reuniting and is working on songs together, though the group hasn't committed to a new album yet. "We've been playing around with a few things live," Dulli says. "It's happening, but it's still a chemistry experiment."
How long will the chemistry experiment known as Afghan Whigs stay together? "That's the question everyone has," Dulli says. "The honest answer is, 'I'm in the moment.' The only thing I know is that after the final show on the tour, I'm going to Hawaii. Everything else is open for discussion."
Mirror lineup is a reflection on Dulli
BY GLENN GAMBOA, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Afghan Whigs' Greg Dulli says that curating the three-day I'll Be Your Mirror Festival, which starts Friday, was like pulling together a musical family reunion, creating a lineup that has a connection to him. Here's a look at who's on the bill:
BEST KNOWN AS The breakout star from the Odd Future crew, Ocean's ambitious R&B debut "Channel Orange" is in the running to be one of 2012's best albums.
DULLI CONNECTION Afghan Whigs recently covered Ocean's "Lovecrimes" and released it through the band's website. Dulli says he personally called Ocean to join the festival after seeing him play several times. "This guy hasn't sung a bad song yet," Dulli says.
PLAYING Sept. 21
Mark Lanegan Band
BEST KNOWN AS One of indie rock's most versatile and memorable singers -- playing with Screaming Trees, Queens of the Stone Age and Isobel Campbell -- Lanegan is fronting his own band again with the moving "Blues Funeral" album this year.
DULLI CONNECTION Half of the Dulli side project The Gutter Twins and a one-time touring member of Dulli's Twilight Singers.
PLAYING Sept. 22
BEST KNOWN AS The singer-songwriter behind the touching "In the Sun" and a string of impressive indie-folk albums, both solo and with his band The Lonely Astronauts. His latest project is RNDM, with Pearl Jam bassist Jeff Ament.
DULLI CONNECTION A collaborator with Dulli's Twilight Singers, they used to be neighbors in New Orleans. Dulli called on Arthur to open the first show of the Afghan Whigs' reunion in May.
PLAYING Sept. 22
BEST KNOWN AS A pioneering all-female indie-rock band from Columbus, Ohio, that made its name in the late '80s and early '90s with clever songs like "Charles," an ode to Prince Charles, and the self-explanatory "Slut."
DULLI CONNECTION Scrawl singer Marcy Mays was the guest vocalist on the Afghan Whigs' "My Curse" from its landmark "Gentlemen" album.
PLAYING Sept. 22