It was a stunning surprise to watch The Twilight Singers express in music the same metaphorical battle for Greg Dulli's soul that he has been working out in his lyrics and his con-man-with-a-heart-of-gold delivery for decades now.
In a 100-minute set distinctly focused on life after sunset and late-night pursuits, the battle played out as clear as day during “Get Lucky,” a standout track from the band's standout new album “Dynamite Steps.” While Dulli outlined yet another relationship power struggle, (“Careful when you look into my eyes, you'll turn to stone,” he croons, “and I am not so so strong to let you go”) the rest of the Twilight Singers dramatized it on another level. Rick Nelson and his violin gorgeously took the side of good, while Dave Rosser and his snarling guitar championed the dark side. Drummer Greg Wieczorek and bassist Scott Ford's drum 'n' bass groove kept the pressure on and propelled the debate forward.
That multi-level debate is what makes this version of Dulli's Twilight Singers all the more compelling. Dulli, after all, is charismatic to drive a dozen bands. Few can match the way he can effortlessly move from charmer to boor, from seductive whisper to angry yowl, in the course of a song. Few singers have minds (or voices) so nimble that they can move from the painful confessional “Too Tough to Die” into Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers' “Breakdown” or from Smokey Robinson's kissy-face “Cruisin'” to the dark-hearted jealousy of “Love.” (When he received a bouquet of roses from the crowd, Dulli quipped, “You know how to make a boy feel like Neil Diamond,” before breaking into a verse of “Kentucky Woman.”) In this gang of Twilight Singers, Dulli now has musicians nimble and knowledgeable enough to match him.
They showed that again in the brilliant new “She Was Stolen,” which Dulli has described as a beautiful song from a dark place. On the recorded version, Dulli plays up the beauty, building a lovely ballad around the betrayal and revenge. At Webster Hall last night, “Stolen” was far more muscular. There's an underlying aggressiveness in the guitarwork and the bass, especially when Dulli moves from the fluttering chorus to the vow, “You'll be lied to. You will suffer. I'm gonna get you back. Wait and see.”
Even when the band is relatively straightforward, as they were in the current indie-rock single “On the Corner,” there is still a depth and complexity that are tough to beat and almost impossible to forget. Yes, kids, even when the light show is no more elaborate than Wieczorek's lit-from-the-inside drums and the choreography is little more than a few well-timed hand gestures, you can put on a great show. The Twilight Singers showed exactly how it's done.
SETLIST: Last Night in Town / Blackbird and the Fox / I'm Ready / Forty Dollars / Beginning of the End / Bonnie Brae / She Was Stolen / Don't Call / Too Tough to Die > Breakdown / Decatur Street / Get Lucky / Teenage Wristband / Cruisin' > Love / Annie Mae / Candy Cane Crawl / Another Brick in the Wall > Never Seen No Devil > Miles Iz Dead / On the Corner // ENCORE: The Killer / Gunshots / Esta Noche
BONUS: “Rescue Me” star Denis Leary was in the V.I.P. cheering on his pal Dulli, which reminded me of this glorious use of “The Lure Would Prove Too Much” in one of his shows.