Greg Duli is one of a few elite musicians who not only survived beginning a career in the nineties, but also transcended it. Think about it: although it is obviously a generalization that no doubt spews many exceptions, any thing even remotely related to the 'G' word - all that great nineties hard rock that was, for many of us, essentially a natural progression of the aesthetic laid down by Black Sabbath - has become a trapped within a time capsule that in many respects prevents it from assimilating into the vast lexicon of 'classic rock' (thank god).
Duli began public life in the Afghan Whigs. Of course the Whigs have NOTHIING to do with any of that scene, but somehow that big, swooping corporate clusterfuck called 'new alternative' fought to rope everything with a distorted guitar and even moderately pained vocalist into the same basket. The Whigs had a hard rock edge, yet they imaginatively tempered that with healthy doses of Marvin Gaye and early Kenny Rogers as well as their own unique arrangments that utilized everything from slide guitar to boisterous female backups. Still, maybe there was something to the comparisons to some of the guys from Seattle, but probably more Screaming Trees or Mudhoney than other, more well known ones*...
Now, If you listen closely to Duli's records in The Twilight Singers or now his new group The Gutter Twins (with another 90’s breakout, Mark Lanegan from the aforementioned Screaming Trees and currently QOTSA) you’ll hear emotional, sonic and abstract ideological textures that bare a lot of similarities to the Whigs yes, but also to groups like Alice and Chains, thus they possess a unique backwards/forwards in time quality.
Now, I will listen to Layne and the boys until I die, but there is something about any of those great 90’s hard rock bands that occasionally feels dated. BULLSHIT you say! Well, hear me out. I don't mean dated in the way ELP's fledgling synthsizer sounds make them feel dated, or the way ANY soul artist in the 80's sound like a large moustached coke-freak with a bunch of German mics and bad Casio's had there sonic way with them. No, I mean dated as in it sounds like a time other than now. Music does not sound like BADMOTORFINGER now, and if a band released an album that did, they would most likely sound like a stupid novelty act, the same way you can love or hate the Darkness, but they are a novelty by nature of the fact that they are more concerned with sounding like LA hair bands of the 80's than any other aspect of their art (and I use that three-lettered curse word loosely there my friends...)
Nostalgia, wanted or not. Yep. The reason bands like AIC are dated for any late twenties, early thirties year old is because we were there, growing up listening to them. In most cases these bands have all moved on. But so, too, have we. Therefore it is only natural that when I throw on an album like SAP it takes me back so strongly that it’s an emotional investment. This gives it a somewhat dated quality, that and honestly, sometimes a chore just to listen as it can’t be a part time thing – no matter what I’m doing I end up pulling a trance, sitting and staring off into space seeing any number of the miscreants I shared those times with.
So now back to Duli. I’m listening to The Twilight Singers album ‘Powder Burns’ on headphones right now and regardless of the fact that this came out in 2006 it has a similar quality to some of the things we're talking about – only unlike a novelty act Duli and the crew have somehow managed to bring the essence of music at that time, how it sounded and what it meant, into the NOW. They've honored and updated it at the same time. Refreshed.
Duli is a genius, he’s used his three main musical vehicles of the last 20 years to show us his life; what it was, is and could have been. He’s no stranger to the strangely alluring sting of life – not the idea of life but the actual vehicle we etch into the lines of our flesh every minute of every day by sometimes making the right choices and maybe more often making the wrong ones. Greg Duli knows not a one of us here lives forever and such, even the mistakes we make and the corners we paint ourselves into taste awful sweet if you know how to squeeze them for the right juice.
One thing that really fascinates me about Greg Duli is the undercurrent of sophisticated violence that runs through even some of his sweetest songs. Sure, there are tracks like Powder Burns’ ‘I’m Ready’ – a summation of a scene anyone who frequents public houses has witnessed before. Remember walking out of a bar in the city on such and such a date and seeing two guys beating the shit out of each other? Or maybe it was more like one guy taking a full bottle of Heineken to the top of another guy's head - that sickening CRUNCH and the impulse to flee suddenly flooded over by a host of morbid curiosity’s all vying for your full attention:
IS HE DEAD?
IS HE BLEEDING?
WHAT THE FUCK DID HE DO?
Duli knows. Afghan Whigs track ‘Jacob’s Ladder’ reads like another all to familiar scene. Someone who burns you on a woman or drugs or both has earned his ass-kicking and your going to be waiting to have him when he’s due to make his score. Drugs, violence, testosterone, yes, but not that caricature bullshit the likes of pantera or rage against the machine stuff down our throats – that stuff is easy to dismiss because it’s not happening to our best friends, our girlfriends or just the people on the other side of the pub window.
But then there’s that sweet, innocent violence. The kind that’s less a fist in the face than it is a thoughtless selfishness that ends up hurting the one you love. See Twilight Singers' 'FORTY DOLLARS' or shit, the WHIGS album 'GENTLEMAN' pretty much in it's entirety.
Greg Duli spent the better part of his career in the Whigs and Twilight Singers and now The Gutter Twins exercising all types of these demons, and its because he’s going through it in front of us that its that much easier and yes, maybe even a little cool that we can go through it in our own lives.
* As fully cognizant adults it is a bane that to talk about this stuff we have to brush the edges of corporate buzz words like the 'G' word or 'alternative', or even that it is still easier to refer to a lot of the music from that period as pertaining to one particular city, but realistically, it would be ridiculous to close our eyes and try to avoid it. I don't like it any more than you do, but face it, that marketing frenzy dug up a bunch of great bands (and some bad ones) and lumped them all under these various umbrellas - we who were sophmores in high school might have been able to smell a phony but good fucking music is good fucking music and we were walled in from all sides. That, and of course yes, it is just easier to talk about this stuff with these terms as vague outlines to condense the verbage - I wouldn't be talking about The Jesus Lizard, Big Black, Urge Overkill, Liz Phair, Smashing Douche bags (well, I just wouldn't be talking about them, and wouldn't Steve Albini just want my blood for mentioning BB in the same parenthetical aside as any of these last couple bands?) without refering to the pre-mature ejaculation that was the 'Chicago-scene' because when I say it that way EVERYBODY, like it or hate it, agree or disagree, knows EXACTLY what I am talking about.