Cincinnati is a solid four-and-a-half drive from Millvale, Pa. but when Ohio-bred musical provocateur Greg Dulli plays Mr. Smalls Theatre in the Pittsburgh-area borough on April 30 (SHOW CANCELLED DUE TO COVID-19), the distance between the two places might seem a little bit smaller.
“I love playing Pittsburgh because I grew up in Cincinnati,” said Dulli, the Afghan Whigs and Twilight Singers frontman, who’s touring this spring to support the 2020 release of his solo debut, Random Desire. “These river towns, these working-class towns – they remind me of home.”
Dulli hasn’t fronted “a Cincinnati band” for a while now. Though the group he started when he hit the legal drinking age, The Afghan Whigs, gained notoriety after signing to Seattle standard-bearer Sub Pop Records, Dulli has lived most of the past 23 years in Los Angeles. On April 18, he will release a Record Store Day Exclusive, a single featuring frequent collaborator Mark Lanegan, formerly of Screaming Trees and another staple of Seattle culture.
When Dulli is not living in L.A., he frequents a second home in New Orleans.
“They’re both multicultural cities,” he said. “I like great food, great art, great architecture, great weather and great music. There’s a lot of culture between them both.”
Bigger question, how does Random Desire, on which Dulli sang and, in many cases, played all the instruments, fit into the rich lexicon of his decades-long catalog?
“I don’t put out a record unless I think it’s the best thing I can do,” he said. “I’ve been writing songs since I was a teenager. Whenever I do something, it’s the most important thing to me, be it making a record or making a sandwich.”
A sandwich, really?
“I want a good sandwich,” Dulli laughed.
Dulli has been a singular presence, both as songwriter and performer, in the bands he’s fronted. He said the instinct to go it alone was a natural one. Afghan Whigs’ drummer was making a Raconteurs LP. Another bandmate was welcoming their first child into the world.
“Everybody had major projects and I was like, ‘I want something to do, too!’” Dulli laughed. “On a lot of the songs on Random Desire, I am the band. That alone, being the band so to speak, being the drummer and the guitar player – there’s probably more ownership. If somebody didn’t like the drumming, that’s my fault.”
Dulli has yet to flesh out setlists for tour dates, though he confirmed he will be playing with Whigs bandmates John Skibic and Rick Nelson, as well as bassist Joseph Arthur and drummer Trey Bourgeois. Dulli hasn’t toured since supporting Afghan Whigs’ In Spades in 2018.
“I’ve probably played 2,000 shows,” he said. “It’s like riding a bike.”
And can fans expect to hear signature Dulli-isms like “I stayed in too long/ But she was the perfect fit,” off 1993’s Gentlemen, at Mr. Smalls?
“I can absolutely promise you that all the bands I’m in or have been in – you’ll hear that,” Dulli said. “All the years I’ve been writing songs will be represented.”
You can follow Mr. Smalls Theatre at www.facebook.com/MrSmalls or on Twitter at @MrSmallsTheatre. Tickets for the Dulli show are available online. – Justin Vellucci, Unpublished due to COVID-19, April 2020