THE TWILIGHT SINGERS
at Spaceland, April 15
When the Twilight Singers (exAfghan Whigs leader Greg Dullis new five-piece) saunter in from the Greyhound-size band van parked ostentatiously in front of the club, its close to midnight. That is, its 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; thats 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, hell 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 fans requests/demands; he muses about a rendezvous with Demi Moores assets; finally, he busts a breakaway beer bottle on his bass players head. Between the laffs, there are impromptu, rather marvelous renditions of ABBAs Dancing Queen, OutKasts Roses (I know youd like to thank your shit dont stank/But lean a little closer/See that roses really smell like boo-boo), Bette Midlers 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.
Dullis plowed but not sloppy, the band are laughing, the audience is enjoying the well-past-midnight ride. Dullis the rare whiteguy with Prince-like ambition and actual range if not dance skills and it seems like he could go all night. Im not all that, Dulli remarks, but I think I am all that, and you realize thats his key: the boozers bottomless self-belief, blossoming in the darkest hour.
at Universal Amphitheater, April 16
Multiplatinum O.C. sing-along kings Offspring are a guilty pleasure, yet cred wouldnt matter if, despite 20 years that contradict the term, they werent still lumped into that most rep-sensitive of genres, punk.
Like last years 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 Hollands strained street-vendor yell and Noodles Wassermans functional riffs as much Def Leppard as Dead Kennedys are Offsprings 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, its when they pander to the pacey oompah beats of trad punk that they fall flat.
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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 couldve 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, its 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). Merritts interpretation is both morbid and sappy, especially in his lyrics. The brothels madam, Chastity Plum, sings: Just outside this window/Blood might get on your shoes/Please dont track it in, though/Thank you, weve all read the news/Outside, its drums and trumpets/But here, its 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 didnt 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 Janai Amey, whose strained, thin voice seemed almost appropriate (but not quite) to the lyrics: Im just a painted flower on silk brocade/Left in the sun I will slowly fade. The climax came when this divas head crashed down on the plastic floor, but unfortunately it was not the end of the show. (Through Saturday, April 24.) (Ron Athey)