[sic] Magazine

The Afghan Whigs – Brussels AB, 15th June 2017

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Though I’ve lost count of the number of Afghan Whigs concerts I’ve attended this is my first since the 2011 comeback and I was keen to see how the band held up against its former incarnation(s). Things seem to be in a hurry tonight. Not only had supporting artist Ed Harcourt begun his set, he was half way through as I entered the Ancient Belgique’s main room. Harcourt was impressive, particularly with his song ‘Furnaces’. I could have listened to more but that’s on me. Obviously I needed to have sneaked in some time around 7pm.

No messing around either for The Whigs. Greg Dulli wanders onstage alone to opening cranks of ‘Birdland’. The band, (including Harcourt) enter at the appropriate moment (you know the one) and the evening kicks off. We remain in a rush though. No pauses between songs at the start of this set. Instead the band hurtle through ‘Arabian Heights’, ‘Matamoros’ and ‘Honkys Ladder’ laying down a marker for the rest of the evening. Yes folks, we’re going to get new stuff, tough stuff and some of the stuff in-between. This won’t be a 1965– esque party evening. Oh no. Even more sobering as Dulli eventually takes time to address the audience it is to impart very sad news. Long time band member and friend Dave Rosser is seriously ill. In Dulli’s own words he is fighting for his life in a New Orleans hospital right now. Our thoughts and best wishes go out to Dave Rosser at this moment.

As a tribute, Greg recounted the number of times he and Rosser had seen New Orleans band Pleasure Club play live. Rosser had apparently often remarked that they should cover Pleasure Club’s song ‘You Want Love’ one day. Tonight The Afghan Whigs played ‘You Want Love’. It felt appropriate.

On with the show and on with the tough, muscular newer material. I have followed the Whigs since the nineties and on reflection, every tour saw a noticeable shift in direction. From the fledgling grunge of early, formative material through the angst rock of the Gentlemen album (see our classics revisited) the soul man in Dulli steadily emerged – crystalized on the masterful Black Love album. At this point they were almost peerless as a live act, effortlessly fusing their own material with covers of classic rock and indie tracks. I saw them in Kentish Town that year. It remains the greatest concert of my life.

I also saw them tour 1965. This was equally impressive but in a vastly different way. This was play time, party time; – this was essentially a Prince concert, with Dulli dividing the audience into East Coast, West Coast and Chicago for a competitive participation. Everyone left the venue with a grin a mile wide that night.

Then they split up.

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I suppose the playful side of Greg Dulli’s songwriting and performing followed into his Twilight Singers period. I saw them a half dozen times and loved every occasion too. The tone darkened again somewhat circa Powder Burns and the two reunion albums follow suit with taut, sinewy rawk seemingly the order of the day now.
None of this is to suggest for one moment any implication of disinterest tonight. My take on proceedings was probably along the lines ‘we’ve got a show for you and we’re gonna give you plenty of songs’. Perhaps up to an enforced AB curfew? That’s my best guess.

At one point the concert shifted from workmanlike to wonderful. The catalyst for this turn of events was one particular idiot in the balcony who thought it was a fine idea to film the show and in doing so effectively shone a spotlight into Greg Dulli’s face. Mr. Showbiz, predictably, was having none of this and dealt with the light pollutant accordingly.

“Turn that light off and keep it off. Unbelievable. We’re trying to put a show on for you guys and it’s very distracting. Why you wanna film it anyway? It’ll look shitty and you’ll never watch it. We’re here, now. Be here now”

Of course the crowd lapped it up. From that serendipitous incident onward the audience engagement was palpable and the band responded in spades. With a focus on the reformation albums and a handful from Gentlemen/Black Love the gig flew along at pace. ‘Into The Floor’ was a great choice to bring the main set to a close. The band of course returned for a four-song encore.

When I think back to the various iterations of The Whigs, plus Dulli’s other bands and projects it begins to feel a bit moot. As Jimmy McGill might say, ‘it’s all good man’. This incarnation of the band may lack the playful sassiness of the 1998 outfit, but it’s still Greg and John. They’re here, now and I’m staying on for the ride.

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Photographs by Carine Hubrechts. For more from Carine please visit her website, All Around Luna.

Classic Album: Gentlemen

Interview with John Curley and Rick McCollum

All Around Luna

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