UPDATED August 8: The Afghan Whigs play Bumbershoot on Saturday, August 30 at 10 p.m.
The Afghan Whigs Live @ The Showbox
April 15, 2014
By Greg Lehman
The Grunge Years (1991) compilation first introduced me to The Afghan Whigs. I found it in a CD bin at Rodeo Records in Ellensburg, Washington. The owner, Mark Pickerel (ex-Screaming Trees, Truly, Mark Pickerel & His Praying Hands), had tons of obscure compilations (Sub Pop 200, Deep Six, Teriyaki Asthma) that I would take back to my dorm room and play until I memorized every track. The ‘Whigs song “Retarded” was the first one I got down. I added Uptown Avondale & Up In It to my CD collection and listened to them until I could fry an egg on my CD player.
God I loved the ‘Whigs back then. Greg Dulli’s voice was full of so much swagger, angst and machismo. I longed to be him. He sung about topics that were crass, inappropriate and NSFW and made them sound sexy as hell. This is not a dude you would leave your girlfriend around, either. He was a player and if you didn’t like it he would take you into a dark alley and kick the shit out of you. (At least, all of that is true if you believe what he says on the ‘Whigs stunning 1993 album Gentleman.)
When the band dissolved in 2001 I assumed I’d never get a chance to see them play. I saw Dulli perform in subsequent projects like The Twilight Singers and The Gutter Twins but it just wasn’t the same. I heard tales that Dulli was impossible to work with and that the band would never get back together, so I resigned myself to the fact that I never saw The Afghan Whigs and assumed it would haunt me forever.
In 2012 they reformed for a few special concerts, including a SXSW appearance with Usher, but it wasn’t until early 2014 when I heard they were putting out a new album and touring the West Coast that I got my hopes up. I was kid-on-Christmas-excited when I found out I was going to the Seattle show last month at the Showbox.
I bought the new album, Do the Beast, and listened to it with vigor, memorizing every track, engrossed in the reintroduction of Dulli’s voice to my skull. I’m sure my analysis is a little biased, but opener “Parked Outside” sure sounds like a guitar-driven marvel that bests every other rock song on the radio right now and, with influences ranging from soul to jazz to blues to old school R&B to East Indian music, these ten fantastic songs demonstrate that it is still possible to innovate in the pop/rock genre. Put more simply, Do the Beast grabs today’s mainstream rock t by it’s scrawny nape and bashes it back into it’s fragile little hovel.
The concert was even better. Although Dulli is a bit heavier these days, he still maintains a seductive stage presence that varies from menacing to sexy to “cool enough to wear sunglasses in doors” in a fraction of a second. He has a saunter about him, patrolling the stage like he was born with a huge “ego” between his legs.
This reunion “wasn’t supposed to happen,” so I savored every moment like a vegetarian eating their last piece of bacon. During their jam-packed set they pulled from albums 1965, Black Love, Gentleman and Congregation as well as Do to the Beast. They also covered Drake’s “Over My Dead Body” and “Heaven On Their Minds” from Jesus Christ Superstar, and closed the evening with AC/DC’s “Night Prowler” as a dedication to Malcolm Young, who had survived a stroke earlier in the day.
Also notable is that Dulli – like James Brown, Frank Sinatra and Duke Ellington – is a band leader who is clearly “the boss.” A guitarist forgot this fact midway through the set and hit a wrong note, prompting Mr. Dulli to turn and point directly at him with a “don’t you dare” expression. The sheer intensity radiated throughout the entire venue.
Make no mistake, this Afghan Whigs reunion is no joke. Dulli and his band didn’t get back together to cash in on nostalgia, they got back together to be the best rock and roll band in the world. Again.