The last time Greg Dulli appeared onstage in L.A. he was leading the reunion of celebrated indie rock heroes the Afghan Whigs in their first shows in 13 years. Last night Dulli returned to the stage in L.A. with a decidedly different (though no less effective) stage show, as he and Church frontman Steve Kilbey, who’ve been writing together, debuted together as a live act.
Kilbey started off the 75-minute show with a mini-acoustic set highlighted by a joyous rendition of the Church’s biggest American hit, “Under the Milky Way.” When he got to the jangly refrain that would’ve appeared in the electric studio version Kilbey said, “This is the fun part of the song,” the threw in a snippet of Bob Seger’s “Hollywood Nights.”
Dulli, known for his brazen stage banter, has seemingly found the perfect foil in Kilbey; at times the night seemed like a variety show of music and comedy. When Dulli first appeared, someone from the crowd called him a “motherfucker,” to which Dulli deadpanned, “I’ve never fucked my mother, sir.” Changing guitars frequently, he quipped, “I feel like Rick Nielsen,” referencing the Cheap Trick guitarist.
The vaudeville-meets-South Park humor provided a perfect contrast to the often gorgeous music, such as the Whigs’ “Step Into the Light” remade as a gentle ballad. One of the highlights of the night was a stunning version of the Twilight Singers’ “Bonnie Brae,” which found Dulli and Kilbey trading verses against the elegant guitar parts provided by two accompanying guitarists.
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Early on, Dulli explained the simple format: “Steve picked my songs, and I picked his songs.” This led to some surprises, including an encore of “Golden Boy,” from Dulli’s only proper solo album, with Kilbey on vocals. “I’ve never played this song in front of anybody,” Dulli explained, “but Steve loves this song, so Steve is gonna sing it.”
Another high point came at the close of the set with a powerful one-two punch of pop pleasure, first with the Twilight Singers’ sing-along anthem “Teenage Wristband,” then the Church’s equally jubilant “Metropolis.”
The night wrapped up on a gorgeous high, with Dulli on piano and both frontmen handling vocals on a new song they wrote together. The song started off softly, as they shared the whispered vocals. The vocals rose as the song progressed, but the song maintained a hushed, spooky beauty throughout.
“Greg came to Australia for three weeks and we wrote one song,” Kilbey explained. “At this rate, I’ll be 70 before our album comes out.”