It seems that every alternative rock band of the 1990s has a comeback in them these days, but some are joining in the feedback-soaked high-school reunion with more style, grace and panache than others. And The Afghan Whigs certainly have style to spare. In a return that began in earnest with an appearance at All Tomorrow’s Parties’ I’ll Be Your Mirror in London in 2012, and resulting in a new album, ‘Do To The Beast’, last year, the band (or the current version of the band – only frontman Greg Dulli and bassist John Curley from the original line-up are in this incarnation) are on blazing form this evening, clearly back in their comfort zone as they take to a moodily dimmed stage in this beautiful old theatre.
At very close to 50 years of age, Dulli is still a supremely cool frontman, an imposing physical presence with an Elvis attitude, a mind full of filth and knowing angst, and one of rock’s great soul voices, belting out a molten Somethin’ Hot and controlling the room with deft ease. He’s grubbily funny too, wagging his finger at an initially reserved audience with “you’re all so reverent. Let’s get… irreverent.” It clearly does the trick, as not long later, he’s admonishing one flailing pit pig to “remember to dance, not mosh. You’re not going to get any pussy dancing that way.”
This is no one-man show though. Multi-instrumentalist Rock G Nelson tempers the band’s more abrasive moments with keyboards, violin and cello patterns that swell the songs to Bad Seeds levels of lushness. So when the band - a stunningly skilled set of old hands with an apparently psychic musical connection going on between them - really let rip with the thrilling It Kills, each member pounding out percussion in militaristic unison, the contrast to the more considered moments is all the more exciting.
It’s not a completely perfect show - a cover of The Police’s Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic in the encore, however deconstructed and reimagined, still has the wretched stink of Sting clinging to it, which is never to be encouraged. But that momentary lapse in taste is more than forgiven when their minimal take on Bobby Womack’s sublime Across 110th Street builds into pure, earsplitting sonic fireworks, their soul and old-school R&B influences coming irresistibly to the fore. But, in a set that deftly mixes old favourites with Do To The Beast fresh cuts, it’s their own unique songs and a style that doesn’t even question the fact that their audience will follow them wherever they feel like leading them, that ultimately shines. This is no exercise in nostalgia, just a brilliant rock show in which a mix of the old and new gets along like a house on fire. The class of ’93 can breathe easy, as they’ve done their own legacy proud. It’s good to have them back.