For his first public performance in more than a year, former Afghan Whigs and current Twilight Singers frontman Greg Dulli selected the shin-high stage of d.b.a., a beer bar in New Orleans' bustling Frenchmen Street entertainment district. Dulli is well-acquainted with the area: He owns a house and co-owns a bar nearby, and he recorded much of the Twilight Singers' 2006 album "Powder Burns" in a studio around the corner. His decades-long dark night of the soul often played out in the streets, barrooms, and bedrooms of the Big Easy.
The 150 souls who filled d.b.a. on Friday night consisted mostly of hardcore fans who traveled to New Orleans for the opening night of Dulli's first "An Evening With" unplugged tour. He rewarded them with a generous two-hour set that sampled all phases of his career.
Backed by violinist-cellist Rick Nelson and guitarist Dave Rosser, he opened at midnight with his first-ever live performances of "St. Gregory" and the "Powder Burns" title track. The acoustic setting flattered his morning-after rasp, which, at its most intense, strained the d.b.a. PA.
With guest Ani DiFranco -- like Dulli, an adopted New Orleanian -- he reprised their "Blackbird and the Fox" duet, the torchy first single from the Twilight Singers' forthcoming album on Sub Pop. He showcased two other tracks from that project, "Gunshots" and "Never Seen No Devil." Otherwise, he ranged far and wide across his back catalog.
He wallowed in the depravation of "Decatur Street." The Afghan Whigs' anthemic "Summer's Kiss" veered into Springsteen territory. Brawny, Zeppelin-like acoustic chords buttressed "God's Children," from his Gutter Twins collaboration with Mark Lanegan.
The Whigs' "Step Into the Light" was set down for a soft landing. The partisan crowd gleefully sang the "she loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah" Beatles reference in "Forty Dollars" and an impromptu verse of "Pinball Wizard" tacked on "Teenage Wristband."
He did not limit himself to his own compositions. Eyes closed, he inhabited Basement Jaxx's "Lights Go Down." Nelson's fleet cello strokes propelled a reimagining of Bjork's "Hyper-Ballad." Dave Catching of the Eagles of Death Metal and Queens of the Stone Age joined a closing cover of Big Star's "Take Care" dedicated to Alex Chilton, who died in New Orleans in March.
For much of the night, Dulli worked an acoustic guitar alongside Rosser's electric-acoustic Alvarez. Against the majestic sweep of Nelson's cello, Rosser teased out a country-flecked solo on the Whigs' "Let Me Lie to You." In the encore, Dulli switched to an electric keyboard for the Whigs' "What Jail Is Like" and the Twilight Singers' "Candy Cane Crawl."
Dulli shot down a shouted request for the Whigs' "Now You Know," dismissing it as one of his lesser works. And he served notice to a boisterous crew near the stage: "You're not going to talk through this one, are you? You can talk on the loud ones. You talk through the quiet ones, that's just not cool."
But as the momentum of "Let Me Lie to You" built, Dulli cupped his hand to his ear, grinning -- now he wanted them loud. They obliged.
Blackbird and the Fox
The Lure Would Prove Too Much
Lights Go Down (Basement Jaxx cover)
Let Me Lie to You
Step Into the Light
Hyper-Ballad (Bjork cover)
If I Were Going
Follow You Down
Never Seen No Devil
What Jail Is Like
Candy Cane Crawl
Take Care (Big Star cover)