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After Midnight

Photo by Chris Cuffaro

THE TWILIGHT SINGERS
at Spaceland, April 15

When the Twilight Singers (ex–Afghan Whigs leader Greg Dulli’s new five-piece) saunter in from the Greyhound-size band van parked ostentatiously in front of the club, it’s close to midnight. That is, it’s long past twilight — appropriate, given the late-late-LATE-night shenanigans Dulli is up to.

Dulli seems to improve the more he drinks and smokes. He knows this; that’s why he has a custom-built microphone stand with a drink holder and an ashtray. Midsong, playing guitar and yowling one of his many dark rock & roll highway tunes, he’ll motion with puckered lips and two fingers for a cigarette, which will be brought to him, already lit, by a stagehand. The room, full of career drinkers and childless adults, cheers every move, especially when, starting the encore, Dulli gets behind the keyboard and becomes a one-man Rat Pack, or Don Rickles at the ivories. In the middle of one song with a decent swing, Dulli notes, “This song sounds like fucking,” and adds with a wink, “You know, the way we do.” He playfully insults a female fan’s requests/demands; he muses about a rendezvous with Demi Moore’s assets; finally, he busts a breakaway beer bottle on his bass player’s head. Between the laffs, there are impromptu, rather marvelous renditions of ABBA’s “Dancing Queen,” OutKast’s “Roses” (“I know you’d like to thank your shit don’t stank/But lean a little closer/See that roses really smell like boo-boo”), Bette Midler’s “The Rose,” and, in a duet with a typically ill-at-ease Mark Lanegan, an are-they-really-playing-that? arrangement of “Strange Fruit,” the lynching song made famous by Billie Holiday.

Dulli’s plowed but not sloppy, the band are laughing, the audience is enjoying the well-past-midnight ride. Dulli’s the rare whiteguy with Prince-like ambition and actual range — if not dance skills — and it seems like he could go all night. “I’m not all that,” Dulli remarks, “but I think I am all that,” and you realize that’s his key: the boozer’s bottomless self-belief, blossoming in the darkest hour.

OFFSPRING
at Universal Amphitheater, April 16

Multiplatinum O.C. sing-along kings Offspring are a guilty pleasure, yet cred wouldn’t matter if, despite 20 years that contradict the term, they weren’t still lumped into that most rep-sensitive of genres, punk.

Like last year’s Splinter, they open tonight with the brief, pompous “Neocon”: gladiators-entering-the-arena drums, winceably oversincere lyrics, and salvos of that Offspring trademark (and lately KROQ staple), chanted vocals — four-way whoa-whoas and unison refrains fleshing out almost every tune. Swollen to an onstage six-piece by the addition of keyboards and percussion, Offspring soon establish a runaway energy that renders their veteran status moot (thanks in part to the injection of youthful new drummer Atom Willard), and throw up a sonic wall that rivals their densely produced recordings. Dexter Holland’s strained street-vendor yell and Noodles Wasserman’s functional riffs — as much Def Leppard as Dead Kennedys — are Offspring’s foundation, but their X-factor is their ability to incorporate incongruous, often tongue-in-cheek elements into an otherwise generic pop/punk sound. Be it the mock Middle Eastern guitar hook of the early hit “Come Out and Play,” the lily-white reggae of “The Worst Hangover Ever,” or the squidgy, single-digit synth ditties of the recent radio single “Hit That,” they take formula-foiling chances; ironically, it’s when they pander to the pacey oompah beats of trad punk that they fall flat.

For the duration of a 21-song set, Offspring hold this capacity crowd front to back. Their durability and palatability enable them to attract an amazing parents-with-kids count, yet they can still stir up a respectable mosh pit. Though Offspring could’ve retired rich years ago, they continue to exhibit a care in their craft that suggests this is still more than just a job for these savvy survivors. (Paul Rogers)

PEACH BLOSSOM FAN
at REDCAT, April 11

Director Chen Shi-Zheng has revived another classic Chinese opera, Peach Blossom Fan, re-imagining it as whacked-out musical theater, complete with an illuminated “game show” floor and a chorus line of new-wave hookers. Set in the decline of the Ming Empire, it’s a poet-and-prostitute love story plotted through seduction, murder and warlords; a small orchestra of marimba, yangqin, double bass and steel drums executes the smoothly exotic score composed by Stephin Merritt (of the Magnetic Fields). Merritt’s interpretation is both morbid and sappy, especially in his lyrics. The brothel’s madam, Chastity Plum, sings: “Just outside this window/Blood might get on your shoes/Please don’t track it in, though/Thank you, we’ve all read the news/Outside, it’s drums and trumpets/But here, it’s tea and crumpets.”

Chen has employed some credible actors, notably Beijing Opera star Zhou Long as Shih Ko-Fa, the general, and the butch Mary Lou Rosato as the Prime Minister. But overall, this 90-minute multimedia, mega-stage production came off as clunky and uninspired, its video projection showing little connection with its context. There were few decent singing voices, and the choreography didn’t help — repetitious and not done well the first time. Featuring a cast predominantly composed of CalArts students, alumni and faculty, the performance felt like a student effort; a cast of dancing/singing courtesans, with a few nelly boys thrown in for good measure, performed with varying ability. Least fortunate was the female lead, Shiang-Jun, played by Ja’nai Amey, whose strained, thin voice seemed almost appropriate (but not quite) to the lyrics: “I’m just a painted flower on silk brocade/Left in the sun I will slowly fade.” The climax came when this diva’s head crashed down on the plastic floor, but unfortunately it was not the end of the show. (Through Saturday, April 24.) (Ron Athey)