The Greg Dulli/Craig Wedren appearance at the 20th Century is a fascinating and perhaps unintentionally appropriate pairing of artists. Although both will be in solo form on this brief tour, Dulli and Wedren share a couple of interesting bullet points on their résumés — they were both members of acclaimed if somewhat underground bands in the ’90s, and both enjoyed equal amounts of adulation and derision in those roles.
Craig Wedren’s profile rose as the frontman for Shudder to Think, the thunderous Washington, D.C., Art Punk/Post Hardcore quartet that formed in 1986 and released a pair of singles and its full-length debut, 1989’s Curses, Spells, Voodoo, Mooses, before signing with respected indie Dischord. STT was among a collective of D.C. bands, including Rites of Spring, Embrace, Moss Icon and Grey Matter, that were attempting to steer Hardcore away from the testosterone-fueled aggression that had infiltrated the scene at the time. These bands tended toward a poppier melodicism and slower tempos and are generally acknowledged today as the forefathers of what came to be known as Emo. Out of that scene, STT was the band that survived, grew and thrived.
Their trio of albums for Dischord — 1990’s Ten-Spot, 1991’s Funeral at the Movies and 1992’s Get Your Goat — were all under-the-radar favorites with waves of angular guitar squall and Math-jerk time signatures, but the addition of bassist Nathan Larson and drummer Adam Wade in ’92, just before the band’s signing to Epic, shifted STT's musical dynamic toward a more Glam Punk sound. The band’s Epic output, 1994’s New Pony Express Record and 1997’s 50,000 B.C., were more polished efforts and were either emphatically embraced or roundly dismissed by fans and media alike.
Larson left in 1998 and the band dissolved (though they’ve reconvened in more recent years for some reunion gigs).
Wedren then launched a varied solo career, which included score work for film and television (Reno 911!, School of Rock, Hot Wet American Summer and, more recently, Hung and United States of Tara, are among his credits) and his debut solo album, 2005’s Lapland, which in many ways continued his STT streak of being too Pop for the Punk scene and too Punk for the Pop crowd. Wedren’s latest solo release is The Spanish Amnesian, a collection of experimental Ambient recordings he made in the ’90s, but he’ll have a limited-edition, tour-only album available on his jaunt with Dulli (which came about when the two bumped into each other by chance in L.A. recently).
Greg Dulli’s story is the stuff of Cincinnati legend. Formed in the same year as Shudder to Think, The Afghan Whigs played around town for two years before their 1988 debut, Big Top Halloween, a noisy, Replacements-flecked set. Their Sub Pop signing made them the first east-of-the-Mississippi band on the label. By 1992’s Congregation, Dulli’s love of classic Soul and quirky lyrical obsessions were seeping into the band’s slashing guitar/tribal rhythm sound. The following year the Whigs switched to Elektra and the band’s major label debut, Gentlemen, became its biggest and most contentious release, polarizing opinion between wild praise and bitter vilification and landing a spot on a nearly equal number of best and worst albums of 1993 lists. Even with the controversy over its seemingly misogynistic perspective and a number of highly critical reviews, Gentlemen served as the Whigs’ stunning breakthrough and made them a light commercial success. (The album has been treated much more kindly in the rear-view mirror, making innumerable “Best of the ’90s” lists.)
When the band dissolved in 2001, Dulli embarked on a fascinating solo exploration that included his diverse Tropicalia-to-Pop work with The Twilight Singers, his duo work with ex-Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan as The Gutter Twins, collaborations with the artists from Lo Fidelity Allstars to comedian Dennis Leary and a handful of recordings under his own name, including his recent single for Shake It Records’ Eddie Hinton tribute series. (Dulli’s current tour features a stripped-down set with guitarist Dave Rosser and multi-instrumentalist Rick Nelson encompassing his entire career, including a preview of the next Twilight Singers album, due from SubPop in early 2011.)
The quality that perhaps connects Dulli and Wedren most directly is their resolute determination to do exactly what they want with little concern for how it will be received. Both artists have a willingness to experiment with new musical ideas to attract a unique audience and reject the idea of following trends and appealing to the lowest common denominator in order to achieve commercial gain.
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