10/30/12 Denver, CO - Ogden Theatre
11/02/12 Portland, OR - Wonder Ballroom
11/03/12 Seattle, WA - Showbox
11/07/12 San Francisco, CA - The Fillmore
11/09/12 Los Angeles, CA - The Fonda
The Afghan Whigs
Surely, you remember the high-drama swagger of the Afghan Whigs, the 90s rock act reuniting after eleven years, who invoked both hard rock and soul into their moody arrangements.…
The band, having returned from a two night stint at the Metro in Chicago, were in top form. Bassist John Curley, who garnered the “silver fox” title according to many female fans, smoked up classics like the urgent “I’m Her Slave” (from 1992’s Congregation) and “My Enemy” from 1996’s Black Love. Greg Dulli’s voice was perfect (perhaps the result of sobriety and not smoking? Although I do have an affinity for nicotine-coated vocals: again see Mark Lanegan) switching from husky croon to passionate howl.
And, dear reader, if you don’t already know this, the man just oozes charisma; things got especially heated when a hot-and-bothered fan threw her sparkly black scarf at his feet. Dulli, that dark provocateur, just grinned and demanded more clothes. “I want you naked in three songs!” During a dizzying performance of “Gentlemen,” Dulli playfully wrapped the scarf around his head. There was a black box at the edge of the stage on the left that Dulli would leap on to command his mesmerized audience. It made Dulli seem even more larger than life, as he waved his hand about, staring wide-eyed into the crowd. “Testify!” screamed one fan. Dulli upped his antics by daring to wade through the sea of people while singing “See and Don’t See,” The Whigs’ slow-burning cover of Marie Queenie Lyons’ 1970s song. “I know you’re old,” Dulli quipped to folks helping him jump to the floor. He miraculously made it back to the stage (I sort of envisioned some jilted bride dressed in a ragged white dress in the back would swallow him up), but not before having ten million fingers slide through his hair.
The left corner of the stage featured long, cool Rick McCollum, the Whigs’ lead guitarist. McCollum, decked out in fabulous eyewear, would lean his body way back while his fingers danced expertly up and down the neck of that fantastic guitar of his. Later in the show, McCollum became more animated, kicking up his feet and shuffling around, getting right up in the faces of us folks at the front of the stage with tasty riffs from the spectacular “Debonair” to the slide-heavy and rhythmic “Fountain and Fairfax.” (both on 1993’s Gentlemen) It was impossible to stay still during these songs!
Adding to the joyful noise with the three original Whigs were a talented trio: Twilight Singers member Rick Nelson who played keyboards and strings, Gutter Twins member and rhythm guitarist Dave Rosser and Cully Symington, an impressive drummer from bands such as Okkervil River and Cursive.
On top of being an absolutely stunning venue with “mystifying” bathrooms (as excellent opening band Wussy’s Lisa Walker observed), the Varsity has that wonderful lack of barricade that painfully separates rapid fans from the object of their desire: the band. So, to be so very close to such a blistering performance from this band (I could practically reach out and pluck one of Rick McCollum’s guitar strings - Oh, I wanted to! but I didn’t.) is such an overwhelming experience. The line between band and crowd blurred further when Dulli encouraged the audience to join him in singing the gentle “ooo” intro to the heart-wrenchingly gorgeous “Faded” from 1996’s Black Love, the set closer. (“There,” the frontman said. “Now you’re part of the band.”)
The band graced the stage one last time for a one song encore: an explosive, gritty “Miles iz Ded,” a fan favorite from Congregation. This, of course, left the crowd begging for more. Seriously. Fans were screaming for more songs well after the house lights went on and the roadies were dismantling the drum kit. I don’t really blame them. The Afghan Whigs delivered a truly phenomenal show; an incredible dream-come-true for fans. As my friend and I were being politely ushered out of the venue by impatient security and I felt that harsh blast of cold air walking through the alley-side exit, I longed to be back in the hot intensity of those songs.
Afghan Whigs at Varsity Theater, Minneapolis (10/28/12)
photograph by kyle