Saturday: The Twilight Singers Perform Blackberry Belle at Great American Music Hall
Maureen "Action" Jackson The Twilight Singers at Great American Music Hall on Saturday
The Twilight Singers
Saturday, September 17, 2011
Great American Music Hall
There's a good chance one of your favorite bands is on a Classic Album tour right now. Primal Scream is playing the entirety of Screamadelica, Echo and the Bunnymen are putting on Ocean Rain with a string section, and the Lemonheads are touring It's a Shame About Ray. Lots of artists who had a modicum of success or attention a decade or more ago are getting in on the act. Such shows can be a good way for newer fans to catch up on a band's finest moments in a live setting, but they often feel like cynical ploys to sell more tickets at a flagging stage of a band's later career. It also means that bands have to play the albums as they were released: fillers, live clunkers, and all.
Thankfully, there were no such problems at the Twilight Singers show Saturday night. The band cancelled a Fillmore appearance in May when one of the band members fell ill midtour. This makeup show was billed as a straight-through performance of its second album, Blackberry Belle, released in 2003 to much critical acclaim, as well as a full second set. It sold out fast, with promises of special guests Apollonia Kotero, Mark Lanegan, and Petra Haden, all of whom appear on the album. (Kotero later canceled due to an unspecified "personal injury," and Queens of the Stone Age/Eagles of Death Metal guitarist Dave Catching was added to the bill.)
As we arrive, the Great American is heaving with eager fans, some of whom are definitely old enough and dedicated enough to have seen the Afghan Whigs, singer Greg Dulli's previous band. The audience is a mix of demure girls in slinky dresses and fratboys in check shirts. People are talking animatedly about having flown in from Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles just for the show.
Shortly after nine, the lights dim and the band members walk casually out. They're dressed all in black, and look like a very debonair gang. As the lights come up - only a few spots in red and purple, casting a menacing glow - the first thing I notice is that there is far less of Dulli than there used to be. The man is a seriously svelte sex machine.
Maureen "Action" Jackson
With no introduction, they launch into album opener "Martin Eden." Almost immediately, there's a mini-moshpit and the fratboys are punching the air. A formerly sedate-looking chap starts pogoing and yelling and loses his glasses in the ensuing melee, while a kissing couple behind me comes up for air only long enough to holler "WHOOOOOO!" every few seconds. Another guy has his left arm in a sling, but that doesn't stop him from taking dozens of photos. A forest of iPhone screens give the room a weird glow, and bouncers rush forward to scold people for using flash photography.
Two songs in, Petra Haden comes out in a demure lace frock to sing backup vocals on the gloriously anthemic "Teenage Wristband," but the band doesn't acknowledge the crowd's presence until before sixth song "Decatur" - perhaps to mark the end of Side One? Dulli announces, "We're all in this together now," and exhorts San Francisco to put our collective hands in the air. Most of us comply, although the fratboys look a bit miffed because they've been doing just that from the beginning.
Longtime fans will know that Dulli loves to charm and goad his audiences in roughly equal measure. An Afghan Whigs or Twilight Singers song is never complete without a couple of snarky asides, or an extemporized lyric or two from another artist's song. Tonight, though, he seems subdued and slightly distant. He does slow down "Papillon" to add a couple of verses of Steve Miller's "The Joker," but the band seems determined to plow through the album as advertised: no interruptions, no extras.
Maureen "Action" Jackson
Mark Lanegan lumbers on in a backward baseball cap to growl through album closer "Number Nine," which Haden caps with some gloriously creepy banshee wailing, and then Blackberry Belle has been paid full tribute and the band is gone. We stand around, looking and feeling a little bewildered. It felt like watching a performance rather than being involved in it. rushed and contractually obliged. It didn't feel right that we couldn't participate.