“Our idea is that, you know, Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings had independent careers when they got together in the ’70s and started to do shows. They were able to mix and match; so when the Gutter Twins come to your town, you will hear Screaming Trees songs, Afghan Whigs songs, Mark Lanegan solo songs, Twilight Singers songs, as well as the vast repertoire of popular music that is within each of us.”
It’s possible that reading this quote, two hours before I would watch the Gutter Twins bring their American tour to what I assumed would be a torrential climax of methamphetamine blues and subterranean rock, elevated my expectations to unrealistic heights. Speaking to others while waiting in line outside Hollywood’s Avalon on April 2, Twins fans were sharing the html-generated rumors of thirty-minute powder-keg encores that spun from the rustic dread of Mark Lanegan’s solo material into the soul-sleaze anthems of Greg Dulli’s Afghan Wigs and into the barn-burning Americana of their blues covers. As wave-shimmer drifts of L.A. drizzle slapped against too-skinny jeans, and black-polish fingernails pulled hoodies over asymmetrical hairdos, the crowd was humming with anticipation against the unseasonably chilly weather.
All of which might be why “the vast repertoire” of nine originals and four covers within fifty minutes (and no encore) seemed like nothing short of an utter letdown.
The evening was a concise, sturdy showcase of Dulli’s gothic art-blooze and Lanegan’s black-tar rasp. That’s all it was — competent, moody rock that clearly reflected the work of professionals but was an opaque mirror to the edgy, transcendent body of work the Twins had been exploring just days and weeks earlier on tour. The rushed set moved too quickly — and collapsed within itself too suddenly — for any transcendence to take place.
Opening with the whirling cathedral howl of “The Stations,” the Twins quickly set the template for the remainder of the show: a motionless Lanegan roaring from stage left as Dulli spun, crooned, and leapt from stage right, their five-piece band quickly ripping the original songs from the overproduced debut, Saturnalia, and rupturing them with a swirling, swaggering electricity the LP never captured.
“Idle Hands” and the set-closing “Front Street” were the luckiest in transition. The former was rougher and faster than the flaccid album version, with a deep, mud-splattering riff slicing through the song and Lanegan’s gravel-throat growl. “Front Street” rumbled and bled with the ominous, lurching grandeur it never achieved on disc.