The Twilight Singers at The Black Cat

I was in the right mood for a show because I had just seen The Plague Dogs, the animated film based on the book by Richard Adams (writer of Watership Down). It was the most upsetting movie I’ve ever seen. Some films leave you feeling down about what happened in them, this one leaves you down about life. I recommend it!

I did my pre-concert ritual: I made sure the ticket was in the car. I took off my good watch and put on my cheap one and, because I’ve had a fear of pickpockets since I was 18 and saw a kid darting through a crowd in Amsterdam surreptitiously sticking his little hand into tourist pockets, I moved my bacon wallet from my back pocket to my jacket’s inside pocket.

I hate parking at The Black Cat. Looking for a space makes me resent how nice the neighborhood has become. Ten years ago when half the buildings around there were boarded up you could find a space right away, the only drawback being you might get mugged when you did.

I got in early. I didn’t get a beer because I had already brushed my teeth for the night and I was out of Gaviscon. As luck would have it one of the black leather couches in the back was empty. On top of that there was 21 cents on the cushion when I got to it. Man, that made my night.

I’ve had a chronic cough lately. The filter has been dying in my basement’s air cleaner and the room’s cloud of carbon-14 gas has returned. So without any book to read or beer to drink, I started to convince myself that I had Whooping Cough or Black Lung Disease or something worse. Anyway, if you saw a worried-looking bearded bald guy with a couch to himself who kept coughing, you now know who it was.

The opening act, Stars of Track and Field, came out. I had overheard someone in line describe them as being “pretty chill” which made me expect the worst. They seemed alright though. They reminded me of Death Cab for Cutie, except not effete. I applauded for every song because I try not to be a jerk.

Lesser-known opening acts are screwed because it’s hard for listeners to immediately get into the music of a band whose songs they’ve never heard before. I’ve only been blown away by opening bands I hadn’t yet heard a few times, like in 1990 when I saw Soundgarden open for Voivod at the old Bayou in Georgetown (on the night Marion Shepilov Barry was busted — they announced his arrest between bands, at which the crowd cheered and I booed).

They finished their set and I started to space out and stare at this woman’s green pants. I like green pants, they draw the eye. I devised a plan to search under the couch cushions for change. I figured that 21 cents was just the beginning. Those couches make you sit so far back that there was probably like $4 of hipster money hidden in them. Who knows, maybe if I had checked all three couches I could’ve recouped my $15 ticket price.

No dice though because a couple sat next to me before I made my move. I thought about pretending I had lost something from my pocket and making them get up but I let it go and walked away. I was also worried I’d get yelled at by the staff for coin-mining the cushions — the club probably put out money-grabbing couches as a revenue generator.

The floor was pretty crowded but not packed and I was able to get halfway to the stage without having to squeeze in. The crowd was on the subdued side but they were good. The ratio of douchebags was much lower than a lot of shows I’ve been to lately (this means you, fellow Mountain Goats fans).

The band came out at about 10:45. Greg is back on the chubby side where he belongs.

You may not have heard of him but Greg Dulli is a legend among rock snobs. You know those internet lists about Chuck Norris? You could make a list like that about Dulli’s rocknroll cred except everything would be true (or as close as such claims tend to be).

For example: Greg Dulli once drank so much while on stage that, after cryptically announcing, “The white boys won’t let me be funky,” he passed out in the middle of a set. Greg Dulli was once beaten within an inch of his life by a Texas bouncer named Tiny. Greg Dulli used his Afghan Whigs money to buy a seedy LA bar where a shy drinker came in every week who eventually introduced himself as Elliott Smith.

His voice has been in bad shape this tour. It sounded rougher than normal for the first song and a half but then sounded fine. I don’t know if it was because he was saving his voice for singing, but there was less banter than usual from him. He didn’t tell his usual DC-related Marvin Gaye stories and he didn’t do his shtick about how the latest hit song is a rip-off of one of his songs.

After four or five songs Greg introduced former Screaming Trees singer Mark Lanegan who quickly took the stage. He’s a tremendous live singer but the shyest vocalist I’ve seen. He walks out just in time for his vocals to start, stands stock-still while holding the mic and keeps his eyes closed as long as he’s out there. I didn’t see him once look at the crowd. As soon as his parts are done, he rushes off the stage. It’s a funny contrast with Dulli, who likes to walk to the edge of the stage wide-eyed and with his arms open to take in all the cheering.

The show was solid. Because of the muddled production of their last two albums, I thought some of their newer songs sounded better live.

However it was the weakest of the three Twilight Singers shows I’ve seen. The main letdown was the lack of songs by Dulli’s former band the Afghan Whigs. The Twilight Singers catalog is large enough now that there’s no need to go back to Whigs material, but it was such a blast in previous tours when they’d come out for the encore and play some Whigs songs. The crowd would go nuts for it and scream out every lyric.

It still rocked though. They went all out for 90+ minutes and I loved it. They do the kind of small venue shows that make me mad at all the bands who get on stage and call it in for a set that doesn’t even last an hour.

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