It’s impossible to not be entertained by Greg Dulli and his band, the Twilight Singers. He is the consummate entertainer. Like the last time he was here back in ’03, Dulli came on stage dressed all in black, along with the rest of his band. He looked like a cocky middle-aged John Belushi, guitar over his shoulder, cigarette in hand (In fact, the entire band smoked throughout the set, making Sokol Underground smell like the old days that were only a few weeks ago). But despite having the same swagger, Dulli seemed a little off last night. Maybe it’s the fact that Omaha is one of only two cities that didn’t sell out on this tour (drawing only around 200 last night — what happened, people?). Or maybe Dulli is just getting older. If he was on fire three years ago, last night he was only smoldering. His voice had that same Afghan Whigs snarl, but lacked that little bit of oomph needed to hit the high notes.
He opened with “Teenage Wristband” off the first Twilight Singers full-length, Blackberry Belle, a collection which Dulli drew heavily from last night, and with good reason. While his new one, Powder Burns, has its moments, Dulli could make a living just playing the tracks off Blackberry, which has aged into a modern-day classic. After four or five songs, I began to wonder if Mark Lanegan was still on the tour. Then out of nowhere he appeared, entering from back stage looking like a cross between a straight-haired, goateed Will Ferrell and Frankenstein, striking a pose with one hand on the microphone, the other firmly grasping the mic stand, eyes clamped closed, barely moving. They tore right into their cover of Massive Attack’s “Live With Me” and I couldn’t take my eyes off Lanegan, who looked like some sort of ghost-zombie-statue, chewing a piece of gum between numbers. After three songs, he exited the stage and didn’t reemerge until the encore, when he came back for two more.
Lanegan may have been a highlight, but really, this was Dulli’s show, and as the set wore on, he only got better. Unlike the last time, Dulli kept the stage patter to a minimum, telling the crowd to forget it was Monday night. “It’s Saturday night at Sokol Underground,” he said, lifting a cup of something in a toast (where was that bottle of Maker’s Mark he had three years ago?). Like any good showman, he figured out a way to work a Husker reference into his between-song patter. As he went around the stage introducing the band, he introduced himself with, “I’m Lawrence Phillips… and I’m gonna rape you!” Laughter ensued (by me and Dulli, anyway). Another memorable comment came when he introduced “Martin Eden,” one of the more frightening drug songs you’ll ever hear. “The last time I was here three years ago, I introduced this song talking about Elliott Smith,” he said. “After that show, I bought some cocaine from a girl named Kristen. Kristen’s not here anymore. Let’s sing this one for her.”
The set lasted over an hour, and much to chagrin of a few fans, didn’t include any Afghan Whigs songs. After the last song of the encore, Dulli lifted up his cup of whatever to salute the crowd, and said in a cautionary tone while looking at his drink, “Be careful.” He then stepped off stage and walked directly out of Sokol with a girl on his arm, presumably headed to Council Bluffs… I hung out until well past 1 but never saw Lanegan leave. The show may not have been as good as ’03, but it was still one of the better shows of ’06.
Sokol is ground-zero tonight for shows both upstairs and underground. The auditorium is reserved for Guster, which starts at 8 p.m. with a rare opening set by Trippin Balls, a surprise act that you may recognize if you can get past their costumes. I promised new Guster guy Joe Pisapia that I wouldn’t say anymore. You’ll have to find out who they are for yourselves. Tickets are still available for $20.50.
Meanwhile downstairs, it’s the return of Now It’s Overhead. On their records, NIO is a floating, dreamy, mid-tempo stroll through the trees. All that changes when they step out of the studio and onto the stage. With their atmospheric music stripped down and raw, Andy LeMaster and Co. turn into a rock band, roaring and angry and utterly convincing. Opening band Summerbirds in the Cellar combines dance rhythms with Cure-style drone guitars and intricate, repeated riffs that pull songs out with extended, jammy endings that you don’t want to stop. Also on the ticket is Coyote Bones. $8, 9 p.m.
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