The Afghan Whigs returned to the UK this week for their first British date since the release of their Do to the Beast album. Here's five things we learned watching them seduce a sold-out Electric Ballroom.
ROCK IS BETTER WHEN PLAYED BY MEN NOT BOYS
Too many bands are fronted by silly little boys, working out their problems with women, low self-esteem, abandonment issues, masculinity and violence in public, squawking and whining as if they’re the centre of the universe. Fuck those guys. Like QOTSA’s Josh Homme or Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell or his buddy Mark Lanegan, Greg Dulli is, unequivocally, a MAN, a man who’s taken beatings and dished them out too, a man who’s weathered storms and eaten shit and broken hearts and stared down the Devil. And when those guys talk, you listen. Tonight is a masterclass in story-telling, in dynamics, in control, with Dulli shrinking a room down to the point where he holds 1000 people rapt in the palm of his hand. This is what being a true frontman is all about.
YOU NEED YOUR WITS ABOUT YOU AT AN AFGHAN WHIGS SHOW
The Whigs have always been a ridiculously proficient, thrillingly adept band, capable of seguing into soul or R&B or pop obscurities at the flick of a plectrum. Tonight there are several “Was that…?” moments, as fragments of songs by Drake (Over My Dead Body), Pink Floyd (Another Brick In The Wall Part One), Fleetwood Mac (Tusk) and Bobby Womack (Across 110th Street) are subtly and lovingly appended to Whigs’ standards. If one wished to get philosophical one might interpret the band’s catholic tastes as both a tribute to the universal power of music and a rejection of divisive genre boundaries, illustrating the joy to be found in communal human experiences. Or, y’know, it just might be that Dulli likes fucking with our heads. Whatever, it’s magical.
GENTLEMEN IS ONE OF THE GREAT ‘LOST’ ALBUMS OF THE ‘90S
Always slightly out-of-step with their peers, Afghan Whigs can count themselves a little unfortunate that their most fecund creative period coincided with ‘alternative’ rock taking over the mainstream. At a point when the world was utterly fixated upon the dark drama of Seattle rock, the Whigs’ fourth studio album Gentlemen rather slipped through the cracks – a shame, because hearing Fountain and Fairfax, When We Two Parted and the magnificent title track this evening is a potent reminder of its breath-robbing majesty. A cult classic, it deserves a wider hearing.
DO TO THE BEAST IS ONE HELL OF A COMEBACK RECORD
Of all the great rock bands who’ve reformed in recent years, only Soundgarden and Afghan Whigs can genuinely stake a claim to have enhanced their reputation with new material. No fewer than eight of the ten tracks on Do to the Beast are included on tonight’s set-list – only Can Rova and These Sticks fail to make the cut - yet the show is every bit as enthralling as the greatest hits set the band rolled out on their last visit to the UK in August 2012. Given their deep respect for classic American music, one might forgive the Whigs were they to indulge in a certain amount of nostalgia, but their refusal to do so speaks volumes of their vitality and Dulli’s restless, questing spirit.
YOU OWE IT TO YOURSELF TO SEE THIS BAND
In the years following Afghan Whigs dissolution internet messageboards were frequently assailed by anguished music fans lamenting the fact that they’d only just discovered the band and would now never get the opportunity to see them play live. Now there’s no excuse. It’s a shame that the band’s summer UK tour consists of just four shows – London, Manchester, Glasgow and an appearance at Latitude festival – but should they return to our shores on this touring cycle you really should make the effort to see this band. As the final notes of Faded, er, fade there’s a genuine, heartfelt appreciation in the ovation that accompanies the band’s exit stage left. Few rock bands are this sharp, this sussed, this sophisticated or this soulful: treasure them while they’re here.