(Note: Loyal Soundbitten readers may notice that there's no attempt at disdain, or even analysis, in the following piece, but rather, a simple deadpan quality that can be attributed to both an attempt at poignance and my lack of observational skills. It was supposed to be for a real magazine; they rejected it, so you get to read it for free.)

Later, opening act Jeff Garland would get sort of fucking mad about Puddin-Pops, and headliner Denis Leary would get really fucking mad about coffee, beer, and a bunch of other stuff, but now, backstage at the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts in Santa Rosa, CA, twenty minutes before showtime, the mood is subdued. Besides the two comedians, the only people in the room are the show's road manager and the two guitarists who will accompany Leary on his show-closing rendition of "Asshole," his hit song from a few years ago. One of the guitarists is Adam Roth, formerly of the Del Fuegos; the other is Greg Dulli, lead singer and rhythm guitarist for the Afghan Whigs.

Except for a bowl of fruit and a bucket of sodas and beer, the room, with its shabby institutional couches and its formica coffee tables, looks remarkably like the waiting area of, say, an unemployment office. It's hard to imagine that elsewhere in the building, a battalion of gray-haired matrons in green skirts and white shirts and snappy red bowties are leading 1500 excited Leary fans to their seats - in here, it's just some guys smoking cigarettes and making half-hearted blowjob jokes, killing time until work starts.

As the evening's main attraction paces the room, Dulli, obliquely ambitious, still exploring how best to convert his regular-guy charisma into the maximum amount of stardom, talks about what he's been doing the last several months: recording an album with a sideline group called The Twilight Singers, playing a coke-dealing hitman in Leary's next movie, developing another movie project with director Ted Demme.

And, of course, it's not just the chance to play guitar on "Asshole" that has brought him here tonight. In a few weeks, when Leary tapes his next HBO special, Dulli will be doing the score for it. So he's here to watch and get ideas, and tomorrow night in Las Vegas he'll be doing the same, and then after that they'll go to New York to actually do the project, and then after that it will be on to something else.

Two hours later, when the show's over, a few dozen fans wait outside near the performers' limousines: tattoed teenagers who want to give Leary cigarettes, six or seven of Santa Rosa's hottest groupies, and one guy named Jerry from Ukiah who seems fairly resolved to tell the comedian an amusing anecdote, no matter how long he has to wait to do it. At one point, Dulli, whose movie-thug good looks and bartender mercies have given him a reputation as a heartbreaker, emerges from the building and quickly scans the hangers-on. It's hard to tell if he's looking for someone in particular or just looking; a moment later, he turns around and goes back inside.

-- G. Beato

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